There are two ways to end a marriage in the State of Ohio, dissolution and divorce. When performing intake with new potential clients, I usually ask if the person knows the distinction between a dissolution and divorce in Ohio. I would say that around 60% say they do, and about 20-25% actually do (and these persons have usually been married more than once). In the United States, everyone is a lawyer comfortable with sharing their legal expertise, especially in the area of family law. When people see that their marriage is about to end, this is particularly so, and soon to be ex-spouses start coming up with legal determinations they read about online (yes, I appreciate the irony of this statement being on a blog), heard from friends/family, or just pulled out of a deep dark place (i.e. just flat made it up). In light of this, I decided to write a short article distinguishing the two, but unlike most areas in the law, I can for the most part sum up the differences between these two legal mechanisms in just one word, “agreement.”
What is a Dissolution?
The first method to ending a marriage in the State of Ohio is called a Dissolution of Marriage. In a dissolution, both parties sit down and parse out virtually every term related to ending the marriage and what is to happen after. That means the parties have to agree on property dispersal (who gets what, when, how, and under what circumstances), custody (both legal and physical, as well as who pays what and who chooses what for the kids), child support, spousal support/alimony, etc. The parties have to be 100% on the same page, and both parties will ultimately swear to the Court, under penalty of perjury, that they have fully disclosed the entire extent of their assets and liabilities. Everything is agreed upon before even filing with the Court. Once everything is agreed to and all documents are prepared and signed, the agreements are filed with the appropriate court, and the parties go to a court date a little over a month later for about five minutes. This date is only for the judge to make sure everyone knows what they are doing, and still consent to the agreement. The judge may reject a dissolution agreement if he/she believes it is inequitable (hugely unfair), but this is extremely rare.
What is a Divorce?
A divorce is a lawsuit you file against your spouse with the purpose of asking the Court to end your marriage and divide your property. A divorce complaint includes reasons for the Court to end the marriage such as irreconcilable differences, cruelty, abandonment, etc. The parties to a divorce can file subpoenas, serve discovery questions, request temporary support while the divorce is pending, file protection orders to protect parties, children, and/or property, etc. If the parties cannot agree/settle any particular issue, the Court holds a trial where parties or attorneys present evidence and testimony, and the Court ultimately issues a judgment that outlines the terms of the divorce. Property dispersal, custody, and interim support and child support usually all have their own separate trials.
What are the Big Differences?
Divorces usually take longer. When you have multiple pre-trials, trials, and periods in-between to prepare, the matter can really drag on. Dissolutions are resolved usually 30-45 days after filing. Keep in mind that is after negotiations are ended. Divorces also almost always cost more. Dissolutions can also be costly when negotiations are not productive, or one party does not cooperate (in a dissolution, you cannot use the Court to force a party to do anything), but divorces have trials, discovery, objections, continuances, etc. which can quickly raise costs.
You can get a divorce without the other party being present. More often than you might think, persons whose marriage is at an end, and know this fact, nevertheless refuse to participate in divorce or dissolution proceedings. In a dissolution you need both sides to sign everything and show up at the final court date. This is not the case in a divorce. If a party is properly served, alerting them that the divorce is proceeding, that party does not have to participate for the Court to come to a decision. Keep in mind however that one party not participating does not mean “I win.” The Court in its discretion can nevertheless divide property in a way it feels equitable (i.e. it can give the non-participating party assets even if they don’t ask for them).
As mentioned in the first paragraph, the crux of whether a divorce or dissolution is the proper way to end a marriage is usually all about agreement. Dissolution is usually, but not always, a shorter and less expensive proposition, but that does not mean that a divorce = failure. People have genuine disputes about what is in the best interests of their children and what is the fairest way to divide property. If everyone could always agree on everything, I would be out of a job.