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Your Cleveland Divorce: The Basics

Your ex up and left, and now you're feeling almost as bitter and betrayed as you did after LeBron's "Decision" to take his talents to South Beach. But you're ready to move on with your life. You want to file for divorce. What can you expect as you move forward with the divorce process?

Divorce vs. Dissolution

In Ohio, unless grounds for an annulment exist, marriages are typically ended either by divorce or dissolution. Most states use the terms "dissolution" and "divorce" interchangeably to refer to the permanent ending of a marriage. Ohio, however, differentiates between the two terms, with each term referring to a different way of ending a marriage.

In a "dissolution," couples are able to end their marriages pretty much on their own terms, and with minimal involvement from the court. Similar to "no-fault" divorce, wrongdoing or fault is not brought into issue. The most notable characteristic of an Ohio dissolution, however, is the requirement that both spouses sign a separation agreement before filing anything in court. The separation agreement covers issues that would otherwise be litigated in court, namely -- division of property, spousal support, child custody, and child support. If the judge determines that the agreement is fair to both parties, the court will make the separation agreement an order of the court, thereby ending the marriage. Since fault is irrelevant and most remaining issues are agreed upon in the separation agreement, dissolution often prevents the protracted back-and-forth arguing associated with many contested divorces.

A "divorce," on the other hand, requires a judge to end a marriage based on legal grounds (legally accepted reasons for divorce). Ohio has both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds for divorce. Fault-based grounds for divorce include: adultery, abandonment for one year, extreme cruelty, habitual drunkenness or drug abuse, and imprisonment. The two no-fault grounds are: living separately and apart for a continuous year, and incompatibility. Because it is adversarial by its very nature, the divorce process usually takes longer and is more expensive than dissolution.

Property Division

As a general rule, Ohio courts divide up a couple's marital property "equitably." What does this mean? Let's first outline the differences between marital property and separate property:

  • Marital property is typically property accumulated by either spouse from the date of the marriage through the date of the final divorce hearing.
  • Separate property is property that is owned separately by one spouse. Separate property generally remains separate once a marriage ends.

When it comes to distributing a couple's marital property, courts generally divide assets equally between spouses -- unless doing so would be unfair. If it would be unfair or "inequitable" to divide assets equally, the court considers all of the factors listed below:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • Each spouse's assets and debts;
  • Whether or not the family home should be awarded to the spouse with custody of the children;
  • The liquidity of the property to be distributed;
  • The impact taxes will have on each spouse's award;
  • The impact the costs of selling property would have on its equitable distribution;
  • Any division of property agreed upon by both spouses in a separation agreement;
  • Any retirement benefits of the spouses (except for social security); and
  • Any other factor the court specifically finds to be relevant.

Spousal Support

If one spouse earns less than the other, that spouse may request that the court award him or her spousal support on a temporary and/or permanent basis. Ohio does not have specific spousal support guidelines, so courts take into account several different factors in determining the amount and length of a support award, including:

  • Each spouse's respective income, education, and earning abilities;
  • The time and expense required for the spouse seeking support to acquire additional training or education to increase his or her earning ability;
  • The couple's standard of living prior to divorce; and
  • The length of the marriage.

Child Custody

Ohio refers to a child custody determination as an allocation of "the parental rights and responsibilities for the care of the minor children of the marriage." In any custody determination, the court must take the "best interest of the child" into consideration. This means the court may take several factors into account, such as:

  • The child's wishes (if the court determines the child's preference to be in his or her best interest);
  • The parents' respective wishes;
  • The child's relationship with both parents;
  • The mental and physical health of the child and the parents; and
  • Continuity of the child's home, community, and education.

Child Support

In Ohio, both parents have a legal duty to support their child until the child graduates high school -- or until the child turns 18 if he or she stops attending high school. If child support is awarded, courts calculate the amount of support by looking at both parents' gross income, as well as the number of children covered under the support order.

You can estimate the amount of child support owed in your case by referring to the child support table used by Ohio courts.

More Information

Going through a divorce can be a difficult and emotional experience. If you would like to learn more about the process, in general, check out FindLaw's section on divorce. If you have specific questions regarding your case, you may want to retain a local divorce lawyer.

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