On the surface, Ohio seems to offer many different options for ending your marriage. In actuality, these options are the same as in most other states. Ohio’s legislation simply gives the uncontested divorce process its own name and the state lays out a definitive procedure for uncontested matters in its statutes.
An uncontested divorce is called a dissolution of marriage in Ohio. To make use of this option, you must have a signed marital settlement agreement in place before you begin the proceedings and resolve every possible issue between you. After you and your spouse have reached a settlement agreement, you can file a joint petition for dissolution on one of Ohio’s no-fault grounds: either a one-year separation or incompatibility. Because you’ve filed for dissolution jointly, neither one of you has to serve the other with the divorce papers, but each of you have to sign a waiver of service acknowledging that. You must attach a copy of your signed settlement agreement to your petition for dissolution and the court will schedule a final hearing within one to three months. The judge will ask you a few questions to make sure you both entered into your agreement willingly, and you’ll be divorced.
If you or your spouse want to begin legal proceedings to end your marriage before you’ve reached a settlement agreement, you must file for divorce in Ohio. You can still make use of the no-fault grounds, but Ohio also recognizes eight fault grounds, including adultery and cruelty. After you file your complaint for divorce, you must serve your spouse with a copy of it. Ohio allows you to do this by certified mail, or by hand-delivery from a sheriff’s officer or private process server. You’ll have to go through the usual discovery procedures of a contested divorce, such as replying to interrogatories -- written questions you must answer under oath -- and possibly depositions, where you’re asked questions in person under oath and in the presence of a court reporter. Eventually, if you and your spouse can’t reach a settlement through negotiations, you’ll have to go to trial so a judge can decide issues on your behalf.
A third option is a legal separation, which Ohio recognizes. This involves filing a complaint with the court, just as you would file a petition for dissolution or a complaint for divorce. You can include a settlement agreement or ask the court to decide the issues for you. Either way, the court will grant a decree of separation, which is binding upon both you and your spouse. This option can be useful if you don’t want to terminate your marriage for personal reasons or haven’t lived in Ohio long enough to have established residency, making it possible for you file for dissolution or divorce. There is no residency requirement for filing for legal separation.
Converting Your Divorce Process
You can change your mind about any of the divorce options you choose right up until the time the court issues a decree of dissolution or divorce. If you file for dissolution but decide you’re not comfortable with the settlement agreement you signed, you can file a motion asking the court to convert it to a divorce action instead. If you file for divorce and later reach a settlement agreement on all issues with your spouse, you and your spouse can file a motion to convert your divorce complaint into a dissolution petition instead. If you receive a separation decree and later want to terminate your marriage completely, you can file a motion with the court asking to convert your separation into a divorce, provided you've now met the six-month residency requirement.