Ohio offers several options for divorcing spouses, depending on their level of agreement and how involved both spouses will be in the divorce process. The simplest process, dissolution, is only available if both spouses agree to terminate their marriage and both attend a hearing. In contrast, an uncontested divorce involves agreement between the parties, but attendance at a hearing is not necessarily required.
Filing for Dissolution
In Ohio, dissolution requires spouses to file a petition to terminate their marriage together, or jointly. It is not necessary to have grounds for dissolution since the spouses actually agree that they want their marriage to end. With a dissolution, it is common for spouses to have one attorney draft their documents. However, a couple cannot use dissolution if they cannot resolve all the terms of the divorce by agreement. For example, if they agree about everything except child custody, they cannot file for a dissolution.
Dissolution requires both spouses to appear in court for a brief hearing regarding the dissolution paperwork. If one spouse is unable or unwilling to appear in court, the spouses cannot use dissolution -- even if they both agree on all terms of the divorce and sign a separation agreement listing those terms. Under certain circumstances and in some counties, a retired judge might conduct the final hearing privately in an attorney’s office instead of the courthouse, but both spouses still must attend. If either spouse will not appear in court, they must go through the divorce process.
If spouses can agree to the terms of their divorce but one doesn’t want to appear in court, they can proceed with an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce terminates their marriage when the court finds grounds for divorce exist. Ohio has two no-fault grounds, which spouses can use as the basis for their divorce: incompatibility or living separately for more than one year. Ohio also has several fault-based grounds available, but fault grounds require the filing spouse to prove the grounds exist should the other spouse dispute them. However, in an uncontested divorce, the spouses must agree on all terms of the divorce, including the grounds.
Uncontested Divorce Process
Either spouse can initiate an uncontested divorce by filing a complaint for divorce in the appropriate Ohio court. However, prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce, the parties make a full financial disclosure to each other -- and voluntarily enter into a separation agreement that resolves all relevant issues, such as the division of all marital property, spousal support and custody if there are children involved. The non-filing spouse signs a waiver of service and agrees that the court should grant the divorce on the terms of the separation agreement. Then, the court schedules a hearing, but the non-filing spouse does not have to appear at this hearing. Only the filing spouse and a corroborating witness must appear in court to satisfy the court that there are sufficient grounds for the divorce -- and the terms of the settlement agreement are fair and equitable.