This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.
Prospective clients call my office every day, asking about a divorce, a dissolution or even a legal separation without having a clear understanding of what those terms mean.
Maybe they have done some internet research and have come across one of these terms. Typically, they know they are having marital troubles and want to end the marriage, but they have no real understanding of what the process looks like or how to start. And, so, one of the first things that we do is break down what these terms mean.
Legal separation is a frequently misunderstood concept. Spouses can be separated, that is, living in separate places, simply by moving apart. But this is different from a legal separation. Legally separated is a separate legal status and legal separation a separate legal process that allows a court to divide assets and liabilities and make provisions for child custody and parenting time without actually terminating the marriage.
Legal separation is most frequently used by couples who oppose divorce on religious grounds or where one spouse needs to be able to remain on the other’s health insurance policy. But, because it requires all of the same steps as a divorce, yet leaves the parties unable to remarry afterward, it is not a desirable option for most people.
Generally speaking, there are two primary ways to terminate a marriage in Ohio. The first is a divorce, one party files a lawsuit; he or she sues the spouse for a divorce. Grounds are required, although most commonly a marriage will terminate on no fault grounds, such as that the spouses are no longer compatible or have lived separate and apart from one another for more than a year. While the majority of divorce cases do settle, a divorce filing invokes the jurisdiction of the court and it is possible that the case will end in a trial on some or all issues. Along the way, a number of court appearances and various filings likely would be needed.
On the other hand, a dissolution requires that all of the issues between spouses be resolved up front. In a dissolution, the separating couple will reach agreements between them. This nearly always happens through a period of negotiation, either with or without third-party assistance. Those agreements are put in writing in a separation agreement and, if appropriate, a parenting plan. Only then, once agreements already have been reached, is the matter filed in the court. While courts have an independent duty and authority to review the agreements, most frequently they will be accepted.
Thought should be given to which option is right for a given case. Dissolutions are often quicker, less expensive and more amicable than divorces. Consequently, dissolution is a tempting option.
But sometimes more time and money are wasted by starting off on a path that is not likely to succeed. If restraining orders or temporary support will be necessary, if one parent is being denied access to children, or if a couple is simply too far apart in their opinions of what a constitutes an appropriate outcome, the dissolution process may be doomed to fail. A competent attorney can help to determine the best path to proceed based on the unique circumstances of a case.