When a marriage is no longer working, many spouses believe that the only option is divorce. This, however, is not true. Ohio couples who need time and space apart from one another or who are ready to move forward in their lives separately have other legal options available to them besides divorce.
Below you will find information on legal separation, dissolution of marriage and divorce. There is no option that will be right for every couple. Once you are ready to take the next step, contact an experienced attorney. A lawyer knowledgeable in Ohio family law can review your choice and help you determine if it is the best one for your situation.
A legal separation allows spouses to remain legally married even though the spouses no longer live together under the same roof. Legal separation has many of the same benefits of a divorce. For example, a spouse can request spousal support and child support. Additionally, the court can include a division of some or all of the spouses' real and personal property as part of the separation.
There are many reasons why spouses may choose legal separation over divorce or dissolution. One reason is that legal separation is not permanent. Sometimes spouses run into a rough spot and want to spend some time apart before they decide whether to make their separation permanent or to give their marriage another chance.
For other spouses, legal separation may make the most sense economically. In the current economy with lost values in homes, retirement accounts and other investments, it may make sense for couples to remain married until their property regains some of its value.
In other cases, legal separation may be the best means to ensure spouses receive certain types of benefits. For example, if one of the spouses has severe physical or mental health issues and cannot afford an individual health insurance policy or will not be able to get one, the spouse can remain on the other spouse's health insurance while they are legally separated. Spouses also can maintain their benefits under life insurance policies, annuities, 401k accounts and other retirement accounts through legal separation.
Other reasons for choosing legal separation over divorce or dissolution may include:
- For the children's benefit
- For religious reasons
- For retention of federal benefits, like Social Security, disability and Medicare
An important point to remember about legal separation is that you are still married to your spouse and you cannot remarry. A legal separation, however, does not prevent spouses from deciding to make the split permanent through dissolution or divorce.
Dissolution of Marriage
Dissolution of marriage, or "no-fault divorce", is a more time-saving and cost efficient way for couples to seek an end to their marriage. The most important difference between dissolution and divorce is that the spouses, and not the court, decide how to resolve all of the major issues of the separation.
Prior to petitioning the court for dissolution, the spouses must be able to come to an agreement on all of the major issues in their separation and place those decisions in writing in a separation agreement. The issues that must be covered in the separation agreement include:
- Real and personal property division
- Spousal support
- Child custody
- Child support
- Parenting time ("visitation" or "parenting plan")
Ohio law requires each spouse to obtain his or her own attorney, who then will work with the couple to come to an agreement on these issues. Once an agreement has been reached, the separation agreement will be submitted to the court. The court then will schedule a hearing within 90 days. Both spouses must be present at this hearing in order to secure a dissolution of marriage. A typical hearing usually will last 10-15 minutes. If one of the parties cannot attend the hearing, either because he or she has moved out-of-state or for another reason, then the parties will have to use the traditional divorce process to end their marriage.
Only spouses who are willing and able to work amicably together to resolve the issues of their separation should use the dissolution process. If the spouses are not able to agree on even one of the major issues, then dissolution is not right for them. Dissolution also is not appropriate for spouses who have a history of spousal, drug and/or alcohol abuse.
Divorce is the most traditional way to end a marriage. The divorce process generally is more time-intensive and costly than separation or dissolution. It also can take a greater emotional toll on the spouses and any children they may have. But all divorces are not the same and many factors can influence the degree of difficulty and amount of time necessary to finalize a divorce, including the amount of animosity between the spouses, the issues they cannot come to an agreement on and the complexity of the division of their assets and other property.
Either spouse can file for divorce. Generally, the divorce complaint must include a reason for the divorce; this is known as an "at-fault" divorce. However, if the spouses have lived apart for at least one year or are incompatible, then the spouse can choose a "no-fault" option.
In Ohio, there is a mandatory 30-day waiting period after a spouse has filed a divorce petition before the divorce can be granted. However, if the spouses have disagreements over major issues in the divorce, then the process can take much longer. A contested divorce in Ohio typically takes a year or longer to resolve. The most common issues spouses fight over include child custody, spousal support and property division.
Divorce is the best option for spouses who are certain that their marriage is broken and want to move on. Divorce also is the best option for spouses who cannot agree on any of the issues in their divorce or only on a couple of the issues. It also is the best option for spouses who have suffered abusive relationships or who fear for their safety or the safety of their children.
Take Time to Weigh Your Options
You don't have to take immediate legal action. This is a time to think things through and to act according to your own best interests, rather than react to the situation at hand. For more information about your legal options, contact an experienced family law attorney today. While divorce may be the best option for some couples, this does not mean it is your best option as well.