What are the differences between a divorce, dissolution, and legal separation?
The end of a marriage is one of most stressful and emotional times anyone could experience in their lives. On top of that, you have to decide which way of ending the marriage is in your best interest and in the interest of your family. This can be extremely overwhelming, and usually requires the advice of a competent lawyer well versed in the area of family law. So which solution is best for you? Let’s take a look at the options.
A legal separation is just that – you and your spouse will be legally separated. You will live apart, you will have separate bank accounts and re-title vehicles and real estate in the name of one spouse or the other, and all your debts and assets will be divided, either by agreement or by the Court. But you will still be married. You cannot remarry if you are legally separated from your spouse. If you have children, you will have to either come to an agreement regarding custody and parenting time (visitation) or, if no agreement is possible, the Court will have to decide. Custody will be discussed more thoroughly in a later article.
So why should you file for a legal separation and not a divorce or dissolution? There are several reasons to opt for a legal separation. First, if you do not meet the six-month residency requirement to file a divorce in Ohio, you may want to file for a legal separation. At that point, you can either convert the action to one for divorce once you have satisfied the residency requirement, or you can proceed in your legal separation.
Second, some people object to divorce or dissolution on moral or religious grounds. In that case, a legal separation can achieve the goal of separating your debts and assets and living separate lives but keep the marriage intact.
Finally, one or both of you may still want to have access to the other’s financial support or health insurance coverage, etc. In that case, a legal separation may enable you to remain on a health insurance policy, although some policies now specifically terminate coverage for a policy owner’s spouse in case of a legal separation.
It is important to remember that, if you and your spouse do not have a separation agreement, the Court will hear evidence on the division of assets, debts, and custody of minor children just as if the parties were seeking a divorce.
Unlike a legal separation, dissolution legally terminates the marriage. The parties will be able to remarry. A dissolution requires the agreement of both spouses on all issues, and both spouses are required to be present at a hearing where the Court will confirm your agreement and issue a decree of dissolution. Dissolution is generally more peaceful and less costly in terms of attorney fees than a divorce, and is usually resolved much faster.
If you and your spouse agree on all issues, including spousal support, the division of debts and assets, and custody and support of minor children, then dissolution may be a good option for you. In that case, you will simply put your agreement in writing – usually done by an experienced family lawyer – submit it to the Court with the applicable filing fees, and attend a hearing. Keep in mind that, by law, the dissolution hearing must be at least thirty days but not more than ninety days after your petition for dissolution is filed.
On the other hand, if there is even one issue you cannot agree on, you will have to file for divorce. Also, in a dissolution, each spouse is entitled to seek independent legal counsel. If you opt for a dissolution in order to save on attorney fees but you each retain separate counsel, your costs savings may be minimal and the dissolution could drag on for months while you, your spouse, and your attorneys exchange offers and counteroffers before finally coming to an agreement on all points. And if you still don’t agree, then you will have to file for divorce anyway.
Divorce is easily the most costly and stressful of the three ways to terminate a marriage in Ohio. Many attorneys require a handsome retainer for a divorce, filing fees are usually more than in a dissolution, and there are often hotly contested issues on the division of property, assets, and especially concerning the custody of any minor children. The parties often are angry with each other and want to “stick it” to the other spouse, which can leave little room for agreement on anything. Divorce is also more time consuming – a divorce could take a year or more to complete.
Ohio is a “no-fault” divorce state and recognizes the following grounds for divorce:
- Gross neglect of duty (e.g., failure to support the other spouse);
- One of the spouses was already married at the time of the marriage to the second spouse;
- The spouse’s continuous, willful absence for a one-year period preceding the filing of divorce;
- Extreme cruelty;
- Fraudulent contract (fraudulent misrepresentations or promises made to the other party before the parties’ marriage);
- Habitual drunkenness;
- Imprisonment of the other spouse;
- The parties have, for one year and without interruption, lived separate and apart without cohabitation (no-fault grounds for divorce);
- Incompatibility, if alleged by one spouse and not denied by the other (no-fault grounds for divorce)
As far as dividing property, debts, and assets, the less you have and shorter your marriage, the easier it is to determine these issues and you may be able to reach an agreement without a trial, like you would in a dissolution. However, the longer your marriage and the more debts and assets you and your spouse have, the more complicated – and expensive – your divorce will be. A bitterly contested divorce could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The most important and most frequently litigated issue in a divorce is custody of minor children. Again, custody will be more thoroughly discussed in another article, but you and your spouse both undoubtedly love your children and believe you are the best parent to provide for the care of the children. So, you can see how those feelings could result in lengthy and costly litigation as you leave it to your attorneys, the Court, and maybe a neutral third party (guardian ad litem), to determine custody, child support, and parenting time.
So which option is best for you?
If your marriage is coming to an end, you need the advice of an experienced family law attorney. It is in your best interest to at least schedule a consultation that you can understand which route is best for you, what will be involved in the process, what legal issues you can expect, and what your matter might cost. Whether you are seeking a divorce, dissolution, or legal separation, this is a serious matter than has huge implications in your life. Even more so if you have significant assets or minor children.
For many people the cost involved just in speaking with a lawyer could deter them from getting the advice they need. Many attorneys, including those at Utrecht & Chamberlain, LLC Attorneys at Law, offer your initial consultation for free. Others will offer a deeply discounted fee for your first consultation.
To schedule your free consultation, call Utrecht & Chamberlain, LLC Attorneys at Law right away, and our attornets will be happy to meet with you, listen to your issues, and offer you a “big picture” analysis of your situation. There is no obligation – we just want you to be informed and ensure that you do not enter this phase of your life blindly. If you decide that Utrecht & Chamberlain, LLC Attorneys at Law is the right fit for you, we will go the extra mile to develop a plan for your case and work hard to reach a resolution that works!