There are a number of ways a couple can end or alter their marital relationship in Ohio, but the most common process couples choose to pursue is divorce. The divorce process allows the spouses to ask the court to make the final decisions concerning property division, spousal support, and matters concerning the children. Here is our guide to Ohio divorce and what you can expect as you consider the end of your marriage.
Determining Eligibility for Divorce in Ohio
To obtain a divorce in Ohio, you must live in the state for at least 6 months before filing. In addition, under Ohio law, you must be able to prove one or more grounds for divorce, including:
- Bigamy (your spouse was already married when you married)
- Willful absence of your spouse for one year
- Extreme cruelty
- Fraudulent contract
- Any gross neglect of duty
- Habitual drunkenness
- Your spouse was in prison when the complaint for divorce is filed
- You and your spouse have lived separate and apart for one year, without interruption and without cohabitation
- Incompatibility, which is basically Ohio’s “no fault” ground, unless denied by either party
Filing a Petition for Divorce and Temporary Orders
The divorce process starts when one spouse, known as the plaintiff, files a complaint with the court to start a divorce. The court will send the complaint to the other spouse, the defendant, who then has 28 days to respond to the complaint by filing an answer.
Upon a party’s request, the court may issue temporary orders while the case is pending and before the final decision. The orders can provide for, among other things: use of the marital residence or vehicle; temporary allocation of parental rights and child support; temporary spousal support; and the responsibility to pay debts (such as house or rental payments and credit card bills). Importantly, temporary orders may be very different from the court’s final divorce decree.
Negotiating a Settlement Agreement
There are a number of possible paths that an Ohio divorce can take. Settlement negotiations and conferences are one path that is almost always pursued to some extent. Mediation is another. This involves one or more private counseling sessions in which a trained person tries to help you and your spouse reach an agreement. Not all divorces end up in court as a contested proceeding. Parties might reach a partial settlement of one or more issues in the case, including property division, spousal support, and parental rights and responsibilities, or a complete settlement of all the issues. If there is a partial settlement, the court will make a determination of the remaining issues following a trial. Most divorce cases settle before going to trial, but having a good attorney to assist you in negotiating a settlement is essential.
The court will determine what constitutes “marital” property, as opposed to “separate” property. Marital property is property acquired during the marriage, including real estate, personal property, intangible property (such as stocks and bonds, bank accounts) and retirement plans. Ohio is an “equitable distribution” state, meaning that marital property will be divided equally unless the court explains in writing why an equal division would be unfair.
Separate property includes all real, personal and intangible property received by a party from an inheritance; property owned before the marriage; a gift after the marriage date if proved to be made to only one spouse; and an award for personal injury (except any part of the award that compensates for lost wages occurring during the marriage, or medical bills from the injury paid with marital funds).
In awarding spousal support, the court will consider certain factors, including the ages, earning ability and health of the parties, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living during the marriage. The court will decide (if the parties aren’t able to agree) both the amount and duration of the support obligation.
Parental Rights and Responsibilities
The court will allocate the parental rights and responsibilities between the parents based on the best interests of the minor children who are not yet age 18 and have not graduated from high school. Shared parenting allocates these rights and responsibilities by requiring cooperation and shared decision-making, although not necessarily equal time allocation. If a plan for the children’s care is submitted by one or both parents, the court may adopt the plan and grant shared parenting. If the court finds the proposed plan is not in the children’s best interest, it can request amendment of the plan or deny shared parenting.
Ohio law requires child support to be calculated under the Income Shares Model. All courts and child support enforcement agencies use an established child support schedule when calculating the amount to be paid, unless the combined gross income of both parents is more than $300,000 in which case the court will decide whether to interpolate an amount or cap the amount of support at the amount calculated for a combined income of $300,000. The amount of support will automatically be reduced when the payor has more than 90 overnights/year with the children. The court can further deviate the amount of support based on the allocation of parenting time and the amount of the children’s expenses paid by the payor.
Reaching Litigation in the Divorce Process
If all negotiation attempts have ended in an amicable agreement for divorce, a couple will then enter divorce trial. Evidence will be presented, including testimony of witnesses, and the court will make a decision. In terms of timing, many courts require divorce cases to be resolved within one year of filing the complaint.
If you have decided to start the divorce process and are looking for an experienced Ohio divorce attorney to protect your interests, we welcome you to contact us. Based in Cincinnati, we serve clients throughout Ohio and the Midwest and are dedicated to helping our clients and their families make well-informed decisions for their future.