What Is the Difference Between Divorce, Dissolution, and Annulment of Marriage in Ohio?

By Columbus Family Law Attorney Marcie Fronefield

Surprising to most, there are multiple ways to end a marriage in the State of Ohio. Have you and your spouse figured everything out? Or are you both feeling litigious and wanting to fight for what you think is rightfully yours? Maybe you’re arguing that your marriage has been defective from the start? No matter where you and your spouse stand, there is a solution.

One thing to remember prior to filing either a dissolution or a divorce is that there is a requirement that you be a resident of the State of Ohio for at least six (6) months immediately prior to the filing, and a resident of the county in which the action is filed for at least 90 days.

Divorce in Ohio

A divorce is the separation of the parties and the termination of the marital relationship by the judgment of a court. Divorce in Ohio involves an adversarial proceeding where one spouse files a complaint including grounds for divorce. The other spouse files an answer admitting or denying the grounds and may file a counterclaim alleging his or her own grounds for divorce. The divorce case will be heard before a judge, who may issue temporary orders as to child support, alimony, restraining orders, and temporary custody or visitation rights while the divorce is pending. The judge will consider the grounds for divorce, division of property, child custody and visitation, and alimony as part of the ultimate divorce judgment. The divorce proceeding ends with a court judgment terminating the marriage.

There are two categories of grounds for divorce —“no fault” and “fault.”

The two no-fault grounds include:

  • Incompatibility
  • Voluntarily living separately for at least one year

There are nine fault grounds for divorce, including:

  • Willful absence of the adverse party for one year
  • Adultery
  • Bigamy
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Fraudulent contract
  • Gross neglect of duty
  • Habitual drunkenness
  • Imprisonment in a state or federal prison at the time the complaint is filed
  • One spouse getting a divorce outside the state releasing them from obligations while the in-state spouse is still bound to obligations.

Dissolution in Ohio

Ohio Divorce AgreementA dissolution is a form of no fault termination of a marriage. Dissolution ends the marriage through a joint agreement between the spouses. The spouses file a petition for dissolution including a mutually agreed upon separation agreement. The separation agreement must cover division of property; terms of alimony; and custody, visitation, and support of children. This means that both parties must be in agreement to all issues surrounding the termination of the marriage. Dissolution requires that at the time the separation agreement is signed, the parties must be then living apart. There is no requirement to prove grounds for dissolution.

A court will hold a hearing between 30-90 days after the petition and separation agreement are filed. Both spouses must go to the hearing and swear under oath that they want to dissolve the marriage and that they agree to the terms of the separation agreement. The procedure for dissolution ends with a court order granting the dissolution and terms of the separation agreement.

The benefit of going the route of dissolution is that it is cheaper, faster, more amicable, and stays out of the public record.

Annulment in Ohio

An annulment is a decree from the Court determining that the marriage was legally invalid from the start because there was a legal defect that existed at the time the marriage was entered into. Getting an annulment in Ohio means that your marriage is null and void — in other words, it never existed. Grounds for an annulment include: an underage party to the marriage, bigamy, mental incompetence of one of the parties, fraud, duress, and failure to consummate the marriage.

So now that I have figured out what I need to file for, what do I file?

The party initiating the divorce, the Plaintiff, will file a Complaint for Divorce in the Court of Common Pleas Domestic Relations Division. If the Parties are in agreement and choose to proceed with a dissolution, a petition will need to be filed with a separation agreement. Both actions require the Parties to complete multiple affidavits.

How do I serve my divorce papers if I don’t know the address of my spouse?

If the Defendant is a resident of another state, address unknown, or is a resident but their whereabouts are unknown, and therefore cannot be served by certified mail or repeated attempts by the Sheriff or private process servers, the Petitioner must conduct what is termed a "diligent search" followed by Service by Publication. This is considered constructive service. Service by publication permits the court to rule on the status of the marriage and the marital property located within the State of Ohio, however, the court cannot rule on property outside of the state and cannot make a ruling on spousal support.

If I serve the defendant but he doesn’t submit an answer can I get a default divorce?

Ohio precludes the granting of a default judgment in a divorce case. Instead, where the defendant has been personally served but has failed to file an answer or otherwise appear, the plaintiff must still present evidence sufficient to allow the court to grant the divorce and rule on the division of property, parental rights and responsibilities regarding the children, and any support orders.

Attorney Marcie Fronefield practices criminal defense, domestic relations, family law, and probate law. In 2015, the Columbus Bar Association recognized her as an outstanding young lawyer. She offers clients a broad background in complex divorce cases, child advocacy, negotiation, and litigation support. Contact Wolfe Legal Services for a free confidential consultation: 614-263-5297.

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