What do you do when you want to legally end your marriage? If your instinctive answer was “file for divorce,” you’re right — mostly. You may have heard the term “dissolution of marriage” and assumed it was simply another way of saying “divorce.” But in Ohio, divorce and dissolution have two distinct meanings. If you’re considering ending your marriage, it is important to understand the difference between dissolution and divorce.
What’s the Difference Between Dissolution and Divorce in Ohio?
First things first: both dissolution and divorce bring a complete and final end to your marriage. But even though the result of both divorce and dissolution is the same, the process is usually quite different. And since you have to live through the process, it makes sense to choose the one that is going to better meet your needs.
Divorce and dissolution of marriage are different right from the beginning. Divorce requires “grounds,” which means a legal reason for the court to grant a divorce. Grounds for divorce in Ohio include incompatibility, living separate and apart for over one year, extreme cruelty, or gross neglect. For dissolution, which is much like a “no-fault” divorce in other states, neither spouse needs to assert grounds to end the marriage.
You begin the divorce process by filing a complaint with the court. The complaint alleges the grounds for divorce as well as other facts about the marriage and states the relief the person filing the complaint (the plaintiff) is asking for. Dissolution, on the other hand, begins with negotiation: the spouses work out the terms of their separation, and determine who will receive what assets, who will pay what debts, how the retirement accounts would be divided or allocated, what parenting allocation makes the most sense for their children, and support issues on their own or, often, with the help of their attorneys.
In a divorce, the court is involved right from the beginning. As the process goes on, the court will issue temporary orders governing the conduct of the parties during the divorce process. These orders may be reached by an agreement of the parties that is approved by the court, but the court will step in and make a decision if the spouses can’t agree. In a dissolution, the court is not involved in crafting the agreements between the spouses, which include a separation agreement.
If there are minor children and the couple agrees to continue co-parenting after their marriage terminates, they will also prepare and sign a “shared parenting plan.” If only one parent is to have responsibility for the children, those arrangements can be included in the separation agreement. The separation agreement does not have the force of a court order, but it serves as a contract between the spouses. The separation agreement will, however, be incorporated in the final decree granting the dissolution, which is an Order of the Court and therefore enforceable.
As you might expect, there is greater overall court involvement in a divorce than in a dissolution. About 120 days after a divorce is filed, there will be a status conference. As the name suggests, this is an opportunity for the attorneys to inform the court about the status of the case, which issues are resolved, and which are still in dispute. Still later in the divorce process, you will need to appear with your attorney at a pretrial conference, sometimes called a settlement conference,, at which a trial date for your divorce will be set about three to six months later. While your appearance is required, you will probably not have to testify at the pretrial hearing.
These conferences do not take place in a dissolution of marriage. Instead, once spouses have negotiated and have reached agreement on the terms of their divorce, they can file a request for dissolution. A hearing will be scheduled for about 30 days later, at which the court will sign a decree converting the couple’s agreement to a court order. Unless a divorcing couple reaches a settlement, their divorce process will end in a trial.
Which is Better for Me: Divorce or Dissolution?
There are a lot of advantages to ending your marriage by dissolution. For one thing, the process tends to be much quicker: 30 to 90 days between filing the petition and filing the decree, as opposed to 12 to 18 months for most divorces. The fact that there is less court involvement and generally less need for attorneys to engage in formal discovery, have assets appraised, review credit reports, spend time preparing witnesses and exhibits, and litigating in formal hearings, means that dissolution usually costs less, too.
Because you and your spouse have more control over decision-making in a dissolution, it is likely that you will find it less stressful and be more satisfied with the resolution of any disputed issues. That said, however, for some couples, a divorce is a better way to end the marriage.
At a minimum, dissolution requires both spouses to be willing to end the marriage. If one spouse doesn’t want to, the other spouse may need to file for a divorce. A divorce may also be a better choice if there is domestic violence, financial shenanigans, or a significant power differential in the marriage. The court involvement in a divorce process means that the court can issue orders protecting one spouse from the other if needed.
In a divorce, there is also a formal discovery process in which the spouses must exchange financial and other important documents. If you are concerned that your spouse may be lying about or concealing assets, the formality of the divorce process can help to protect your property rights.
Whether you choose to pursue a divorce or dissolution of marriage, it is important to work with an experienced Ohio family law attorney. An attorney will help you explore your divorce options, choose the one that is right for you, guide you through the process, and advocate for you when necessary.
If you have more questions about the difference between a divorce and dissolution, please contact Melissa Graham-Hurd & Associates to schedule a consultation.