Ohio law allows you to end your marriage by either divorce or dissolution. Dissolution generally involves an amicable parting of ways; a spouse files for dissolution on no-fault grounds, and the couple reaches a settlement on their own. Divorce requires a fault ground and court involvement to sort out issues such as property division, support and custody. If your spouse has abandoned you, this is a fault ground in Ohio.
Abandonment as a Divorce Ground
Ohio’s statutes call abandonment a “willful absence.” To qualify as grounds for divorce, your spouse must leave you against your wishes. If you agree to separate for a while, it’s not abandonment. He must also remain away continuously for at least a year. If he leaves for six months, returns for a month, then leaves again, the calendar begins all over again. You can’t add his second absence to his first absence to reach the twelve-month mark.
Waiting out the year to be able to file for divorce on grounds of willful absence can be problematic for some spouses. A household that enjoyed two incomes may now be reliant on the abandoned spouse’s income alone. Sustaining such a financial crunch can be difficult, especially if you have children to support. Ohio law offers an option. Unlike some states, Ohio recognizes legal separation. You can file a complaint for “separate maintenance” immediately, without waiting out the year. A separate maintenance complaint won’t divorce you or end your marriage; it's Ohio's version of a legal separation. But it will allow a judge to order your spouse to pay you temporary support and child support until you can legally file a complaint for divorce on abandonment grounds.
You might also be able to file for divorce on a fault ground other than willful absence, one that doesn’t involve a waiting period. Ohio also offers a divorce ground known as “gross neglect of duty.” This could involve your spouse leaving you and refusing to help support you or the family. Ohio also has a ground called “extreme cruelty,” meaning that your spouse did something to cause you emotional harm, such as leaving you. Neither ground involves a technical waiting period. You might have to wait long enough to prove that your spouse hasn’t supported you or contributed financially to the family, but you should be able to accomplish this in less than a year’s time.
If your spouse has abandoned you but is still helping to support the family, and if you don’t want to go through a contentious divorce, you don't necessarily have to file for a divorce. You can use the dissolution option instead, also by waiting a year. One of Ohio’s no-fault grounds is a one-year separation. If your spouse is no longer living with you, you’d qualify. This might be a faster, easier option if you can settle issues of support, custody and property on your own without the court’s involvement.
References & Resources
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