Geauga County Courthouse

Divorce and Dissolution Information

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Separation

Many marriages are terminated by a settlement agreement, which is incorporated into a final decree to become a court order.  We refer to such an agreement as a separation agreement.  The agreement is often drafted up at the time the parties separate, and it regulates the terms of the separation whether used for a divorce or dissolution of marriage.  Often such an agreement is drafted to be binding on the parties whether or not a divorce or dissolution action proceeds to final hearing.

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Dissolution

When the parties are able to come to agreement as to all the terms for the termination of the marriage, a dissolution of marriage may be the appropriate method by which to end the marriage.  In such a case, the separation agreement is submitted to the court along with a petition to request the dissolution of marriage. The separation agreement sets forth all matters related to the marriage, including:

  • spousal support
  • allocation of parental rights and responsibilities
  • child support
  • medical expenses for the family members
  • disposition of insurance policies
  • marital debts
  • division of all marital property, including employment benefits

The petition is submitted by both husband and wife, so the proceeding is not considered contested or adversary.  Therefore, the court can proceed strictly on the basis of the agreement without the necessity of a long hearing to listen to evidence necessary to determine the issues.  A short hearing is set from 30 to 90 days after the filing of the petition and separation agreement.  At that final hearing, the parties simply affirm the separation agreement and indicate to the court their desire to terminate the marriage.  The dissolution of marriage becomes final, with the separation agreement becoming the terms of the final order.

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Divorce

Ordinarily, a dissolution of marriage is the most inexpensive way to terminate a marriage, unless a great deal of time and effort is expended in the negotiation and drafting of the separation agreement.  If certain issues involving the marriage cannot be resolved by agreement of the parties, then a divorce action is the appropriate way to terminate the marriage.  A divorce action requires that grounds for the divorce be established.  Most of the grounds sufficient under the Ohio law to terminate a marriage are known as fault grounds.  This means that one party must provide evidence as to the fault of the other party in the failure of the marriage. 

Ohio law does provide two grounds for divorce which are no fault grounds.  There are two no-fault grounds for divorce:

  • Living separate and apart without cohabitation for more than one year
  • Incompatability is a no-fault ground, which can only be used if the spouse does not deny it.  The term is not defined in the law, so any type of incompatability can be appropriate, and most courts will not require an explanation of any kind.

Frequently, if the parties cannot come to agreement as to all the terms for the termination of their marriage, one party or the other will file a divorce action.  This does not mean that the divorce action must proceed to a final, contested hearing for determination by the judge.  In many instances, the parties will reach agreement as to some or all issues prior to a final divorce hearing.  In that event, a separation agreement or a partial agreement can be submitted to the Court to reduce the issues which must be determined by the Judge or Magistrate.  In some cases, full agreement can be reached prior to a final hearing. The case may then proceed as an uncontested divorce. If agreement cannot be reached, the case proceeds to trial.

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Potential Problems

Frequently, matters of parental rights, visitation and child support become serious stumbling blocks.  Negotiations as to such issues can often be very time consuming, resulting in increased attorney's fees for both parties.  In addition, such disputes tend to be extremely harmful to children, so it is important to resolve such disputes as quickly and peacefully as possible.  To that end, I have frequently used family counselors and/or psychologists to mediate such disputes or to provide an evaluation of family members to assist the attorney and/or the court in determining such issues.  If child‑related  issues are likely to be a problem in the termination of your marriage, bring these issues to my attention as early in the case as possible.

Property division is often another area of dispute in the termination of a marriage.  Full disclosure of all financial information, and a complete assessment of all marital and non‑marital property, will be required.  You should gather together any documentation as to your finances for my review at your earliest convenience.  Documentation as to debts will also be necessary.  If you and your spouse have credit cards, credit lines with financial institutions, or any other type of joint credit, you should have your name removed from such accounts so that no further debt may be incurred by your spouse without your knowledge.  If balances are still owed on credit accounts, the credit line will not be completely closed out until the debt is paid, but you can have the account frozen so that no further charges can be made on that account.  You may then be able to open a new account in your name alone, so that your spouse cannot make further charges for which you will be liable.  If you have reason to believe that your spouse may conceal, encumber, or transfer marital assets, please discuss that problem with me as soon as possible so that appropriate action can be taken to protect your financial interests.

You should also gather together any documentation as to property or life insurance policies, employment benefits and individual retirement or group benefit plans in which either you or your spouse are participants, (i.e. retirement plans, 401(k) savings plans, health or disability plans).  Do not cancel or change your life or health insurance policies without consulting your attorney.  As long as you are still married you may be responsible for debts related to medical expenses for your spouse and children, so be sure to get legal advice before changing any policies or beneficiaries.

The question of payment of bills sometimes arises after a divorce or dissolution is final.  A separation agreement or divorce decree may require one of the parties to pay certain debts, which that party may refuse to do.  In that event, the creditor may come after the innocent party for payment of that debt if the innocent party was originally a joint debtor.  If the innocent party must pay the debt to satisfy the creditor, the only remedy for that innocent party is to take the spouse back to court and request that the court order the spouse to reimburse him or her for that debt or face punishment for contempt of court. Since this is such a common problem, it is important to try to have debt paid off or refinanced if possible to remove your name from any debt your spouse is supposed to pay.

Mary K. Bender, Atty., provides Family Law Services in Geauga and Lake County and surrounding areas such as the communities of Burton, Chesterland, Chardon, Middlefield, South Russell, Eastlake, Mentor, Kirtland, Painesville, Perry, Willoughby and Willoughby Hills.