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Divorce vs. Dissolution in Ohio: A Comprehensive Explanation of the Options Available

The two main ways to terminate a marriage in Ohio are      divorce and dissolution.  Both have the same effect, but the       process is different.

The two main ways to terminate a marriage in Ohio are divorce and dissolution.  Both have the same effect, but the process is different.

In Ohio, the two main ways to end a marriage are “divorce” and “dissolution,” both of which are governed by Ohio R.C. § 3105. There is some confusion about these terms, and Ohio Divorce Attorneys are often asked about the differences between the two and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Anyone who wishes to end his or her marriage in Ohio should understand the distinction before deciding how to proceed. 

The way that I generally explain divorce and dissolution is that they each have the same effect; the point of a divorce is to legally end your marriage, the point of a dissolution is the same, and both accomplish that result. However, the process is different. 

People sometimes ask, "But is a dissolution still a divorce?" The simple answer is yes, in the sense that if you get a dissolution, your marriage has been legally ended, just as it would be if you got a divorce. If you have gotten a dissolution, you can rightfully refer to yourself as "divorced." Some attorneys refer to dissolution in Ohio as an "agreed divorce," though that statement is a bit of an oversimplification.

So how is the process different? 

The main difference is that with a dissolution, you do not file anything in Court until everything has been agreed upon and all necessary documents have been signed by both spouses. To start a divorce case, one spouse files what is called a "Complaint for Divorce" in the Domestic Relations Court. At this point, nothing has been agreed upon - property and debts must be divided, it is unclear if either spouse will pay spousal support (traditionally called "alimony") to the other, and, if the couple has children, it is unclear who will have custody, what the "parenting time" arrangement will be and whether either spouse will pay child support. The other spouse is "served" with the Complaint for Divorce, and must file an "Answer" (which usually is an "Answer and Counterclaim for Divorce") within 28 days. At this point, a divorce case is started and the issues are either settled or a trial takes place. A lot can happen in the interim too. 

Before a dissolution can be filed in Ohio, ALL the issues that are unresolved at the beginning of a divorce case must have already been completely worked out, agreed upon and signed off on by both spouses. This means that the spouses must already have agreed how their property (and debts) will be divided, whether either will pay spousal support and/or child support to the other, and, if applicable, who will have custody of their children and how much parenting time each will have with the children (this is generally done with the help of attorneys). If agreement on every single issue cannot be reached, the case cannot be filed as a dissolution. If the negotiations are successful, however, the agreement is reduced to writing and signed by each party, and the written agreement, known as a "Separation Agreement" (in addition to a "Shared Parenting Plan," if applicable) is filed along with a "Petition for Dissolution" and certain other required items. The other items mainly consist of certain forms and affidavits and differ based upon whether you file in Cincinnati/Hamilton County, Butler County, Clermont County, Warren County, Brown County, Montgomery County, or another Ohio county.

Once the Petition for Dissolution, Separation Agreement and other items have been filed, the Court schedules a hearing at which both spouses must be present. Ohio R.C. § 3105.64 requires this hearing to take place at least thirty days after the date the Petition for Dissolution is filed and no more than ninety days after that date. Essentially, this creates a "thirty day waiting period," which does not apply in a divorce case. How soon the final hearing will be scheduled depends upon what county you file in and the Court's docket. At the final hearing, the attorneys and/or the Judge or Magistrate questions both spouses to ensure that they entered into the Separation Agreement (and/or Shared Parenting Plan) voluntarily and of their own free will, that they are in agreement with its terms, etc., and if the Court accepts the Separation Agreement, a "Decree of Dissolution" is issued which ends the marriage and incorporates the terms of the Separation Agreement. 

By contrast, in a divorce case, the parties either (1) settle, in which case a virtually identical final hearing takes place (the key point here is that just because a divorce is filed does not mean that you cannot negotiate, work it out and settle the case by agreement just like you would in a dissolution), or, (2) if a settlement cannot be reached, there is a trial and the Magistrate or Judge issues a written decision. For example, if the parties (husband and wife) agree that they will have "50-50 time" with their children and that neither one will pay child support or spousal support to the other but they do not agree how the marital assets will be divided or who has to pay an outstanding debt, there would be a settlement on parenting issues and spousal support but there would be a trial to determine the division of property and who pays the disputed debt. The Court's decision is then incorporated into a "Decree of Divorce." 

So should you try to negotiate a dissolution or just file for divorce? As is common in law, the answer is: it depends. In the next blog post, you can read about some of the factors to consider when making this decision.


Alex Durst is a Cincinnati civil litigation attorney and appellate attorney with The Durst Law Firm. Licensed in Ohio, Alex has also practiced in Missouri, Florida, Indiana, California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Kentucky. Alex can be reached at (513) 621-2500 or