I. Terminating Your Marriage
Ohio residents have the option of terminating their marriages either (a) by agreement through a dissolution or (b) by filing a divorce action. In addition, the spouses may want to remain married but formalize their rights and duties through a court-ordered legal separation. These legal proceedings may be complicated, so it is a good idea to talk to an attorney about what method is available and best for you. Court staff may give you some general information but cannot tell you what you should do or how to do it. Instructions and some forms are available on this website under Forms then Domestic Relations Forms; however, all situations are unique, so the forms you need may not be available on this website.
When a marriage is terminated, there are four (4) main areas that the spouses, attorneys, and Court must address:
(1) The basis for terminating the marriage – If a divorce, the person who wants the divorce must have either fault-based or no-fault bases to end the marriage; if a dissolution, the spouses must desire to end the marriage.
(2) The property and debt division – This includes real estate, furniture, cars, tools, pensions, bank accounts, as well as credit card accounts, hospital bills, mortgage or equity loans, and car loans.
(3) Allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, if there are minor children – This includes the children’s living arrangements, financial support, medical insurance, and tax dependent status. Except in cases of adoption, this may also include determining whether the husband is the children’s biological father.
(4) Spousal support (what used to be called “alimony”) – One spouse may request some ongoing support, other than child support.
Ohio law allows spouses to end their marriage by agreement without stating why they want the marriage ended. They must agree to all matters – including property and debt division, parental rights and duties, and spousal support (if any) – and put that in the form of a written contract or separation agreement. One of the spouses must have resided in Ohio for at least six (6) months immediately before the petition was filed.
The hearing on your petition will be scheduled at least 30 days after you filed the petition but not more than 90 days after it was filed. Both spouses must appear for the dissolution hearing. At that hearing, the Magistrate or Judge will ask you questions about your agreement and your petition. You are required to bring a judgment entry or decree of dissolution for the Judge or Magistrate to sign to order your marriage terminated.
A divorce case is started by one spouse (called the “plaintiff” in the court case) filing a complaint for divorce with the Clerk of Courts. The plaintiff in a divorce case must have resided in Ohio for at least six (6) months; the case is usually filed in the county where the plaintiff has lived for at least ninety (90) days. The complaint is “served on” or delivered to the other spouse, who is called the “defendant” in the court case. The defendant has 28 days after getting the complaint to file a response, either just an answer or an answer and counterclaim for divorce. If the defendant files a counterclaim, the plaintiff gets to file a response.
In some situations, the case may be scheduled fairly soon for what is called a “temporary orders” hearing. Otherwise, after both spouses have had a chance to file their initial papers, the case will be either set for a pretrial conference or a final hearing. At a pretrial conference, the attorneys typically meet with the Magistrate to discuss what disputes the spouses have, to plan how to proceed, to set timelines or deadlines, and to schedule any other hearings. If you represent yourself, you will participate in the pretrial conference.
At the final hearing, if the spouses have agreed to everything, the agreement is either outlined for the Court in the courtroom or presented to the Court as a written separation agreement. Otherwise, where the divorce, property division, or children’s issues are disputed, the spouses are required to present evidence about all the issues the Court has to decide.
There are several grounds for divorce under Ohio Revised Code section 3105.01. The most commonly cited are: incompatibility, living separate and apart for more than a year, adultery, extreme cruelty, and gross neglect of duty. You can also get a divorce for your spouse’s bigamy, fraudulent contract, habitual drunkenness, or imprisonment for a felony.
C. Terminology and Requirements Regarding Dissolution and Divorce Cases
Allocation of Parental Rights and Responsibilities – This used to be called custody, visitation, and support. There are specific laws that the Court must follow in determining which parent is the “residential parent,” what “parenting time” the “non-residential parent” will have, and what financial arrangements will be made. Hancock County has standard parenting schedules (Appendices J and K to the Local Domestic Relations Rules) that provide a starting point for parents to consider. The parents may agree to that schedule or some variation, just as the Court may vary from that schedule if the parents cannot agree. You may see that parenting schedule at this website at the Domestic Relations Rules page (Appendix J for local parenting time; Appendix K for parents who live more than 150 miles apart).
The Court may either designate one parent the sole residential parent of the minor children or may grant shared parenting. Before the Court can grant shared parenting, at least one of the parents must have filed a “shared parenting plan” with the Clerk of Courts. Details about residential parent and parenting time are found at Ohio Revised Code sections 3109.04 and 3109.051. In addition, the parents and Court must ensure that the children have health insurance, if available through either parent’s work, and that the children’s uninsured medical expenses are paid. Finally, the parents can agree on, or the Court can decide, who claims the children as tax dependents.
The Court has what is called “continuing jurisdiction” over all matters regarding the children. That means that the Court that issued the original orders regarding the children can make changes to those orders if your circumstances change or it is otherwise appropriate for the children. To request changes in the orders, you have to file a motion to modify the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. If you only want the child support amount changed, you may contact the Hancock County Child Support Enforcement Agency and request a review. If you disagree with that agency’s recommendation, you can still bring the case to the Court for review.
“Service” or “Service of Summons” – This term refers to the method of delivering to the other party the papers that are filed with the Clerk of Courts. There are specific ways that court papers must be “served” on the other party, and those rules are found in the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure at Rules 4 through 4.6. When a complaint is filed, or a case is re-opened to modify some provisions, the other party must be properly “served” under the Rules. It is the responsibility of the person filing the papers with the Clerk of Courts to give the Clerk written instructions about how to serve the papers and where the other party may be found to serve the papers.
H.O.P.E. Classes – These are parent education seminars that are required in all divorce and dissolution cases where there are minor children involved, even if the parties have agreed to everything. In addition, all children between the ages of 5 and 16 years must attend a session. The class is a two-hour program, offered twice monthly from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hancock County Courthouse. The cost is $50 per case and is paid through the cost deposits made when the divorce or dissolution is filed. To register, you must contact the Hancock County Domestic Relations Court at 419-424-7818.
Guardian ad Litem (GAL) – This is the name given to a specially trained attorney or volunteer who is appointed by the Court to investigate the children’s circumstances and make recommendations regarding the children’s best interest. The GAL does not represent either parent and does not represent what the children want – the GAL represents what is best for the children. Either parent may request the appointment of a GAL, or the Court may appoint one because of particular concerns about the children or the parents’ behavior.
Mediation – This is a process that allows you and your spouse (or ex-spouse) to talk about disputed issues with the guidance of a neutral third-party. The Court has a mediator who can meet with you and help you decide how you want to resolve the disputed matters. When the court mediator is used, each party must deposit $50, which may have been paid through the cost deposit. Alternatively, you may hire an independent mediator, at your own expense, to assist you in resolving the case.
Judgment Entry – This term refers to a court order and includes a decree of divorce or dissolution. Every case is ended with a Judgment Entry that sets out what orders the Court made (for example, the marriage is dissolved or the divorce granted, who is residential parent, who pays support, who gets what property).
II. Post-Decree Motions
After a divorce or dissolution proceeding is final, more disputes may arise between former spouses. The Court has the authority to modify the orders related to any minor children, if certain requirements are met, and to enforce all orders issued by the Court. Parties to the case bring those matters to the Court’s attention through a written motion or request for additional orders. These motions are called “post-decree motions” because they are filed after the final decree of divorce or dissolution; they re-open the original divorce or dissolution case. When you file a post-decree motion, you have to serve the new motion on your former spouse by certified mail or other approved method.
Some examples of post-decree motions are: (a) If you have an order that grants you parenting time and the children’s other parent refuses to allow you to see the children or interferes with that parenting time, you can file a motion to show cause or to find your former spouse in contempt for violating the order. The motion should specify the times and dates when you were denied parenting time. (b) If you believe the children’s best interest would be served by changing the parenting time, or if your incomes have changed so that support should be recalculated, you may file a motion to modify the existing orders. (c) If your former spouse will not pay the debt in your name, as ordered, you may file a motion to find your former spouse in contempt for violating the order and/or to get paid back any money you had to pay on the debt.
Forms and instructions for some of these post-decree motions are available on this website at “Domestic Relations Forms.”
III. Civil Protection Orders (CPOs)
The Domestic Relations Court hears cases involving requests for civil protection orders (CPOs). A CPO is an order that prohibits a person from contacting or coming around another person; it may also remove a person from a shared home, if there is violence, and make orders regarding the parties’ minor children. A CPO may be issued as a Domestic Violence CPO, where the parties are related to one another in certain ways, or as a Stalking or Sexually Oriented Offense CPO, where there may be no family or intimate relationship between the parties but one party is stalking or has sexually assaulted the other. The person filing the petition for a CPO is called the “petitioner,” while the person against whom the order is sought is the “respondent.” The petition forms are available at the Court or from the Clerk of Courts and may be completed without the assistance of an attorney. A petitioner has the right to an attorney and to a victim advocate from the Open Arms Domestic Violence Shelter (telephone 419-422-4766 or 419-420-9261); the Court cannot appoint attorneys for petitioners. Incomplete petitions may result in denial of the petition or delay in scheduling hearings. Effective June 17, 2010, if the respondent is under 18 years of age, the petition is filed in Juvenile Court.
If the Court issues an emergency CPO against the respondent, the CPO will be delivered to the respondent by the Sheriff of the County where the respondent lives and a full hearing, or trial, will be scheduled within the next 7 to 10 court days. If the parties agree that a CPO should be issued, they can both sign a Consent Agreement for a CPO and give it to the Court to approve. If the parties do not agree, the Court will issue a decision about whether the CPO should be granted.
A respondent may be arrested and convicted of a criminal offense for violating a CPO if the respondent has been served with the CPO and as long as that CPO is in effect. Even if the petitioner gives the respondent permission to violate the order, the respondent may be charged with a criminal offense. It is the respondent’s responsibility to follow the order. If either party believes the order should be changed, that party can file a motion to modify the CPO; the Court will schedule a hearing to decide if the CPO should be modified. The issuance of a CPO may affect a respondent’s rights to have a firearm or to hold certain employment positions, so a respondent should contact an attorney regarding the effects of a CPO.
Brochures regarding CPOs are available at the Domestic Relations Court, Ground Floor, Hancock County Courthouse, and detailed instructions are provided with the petitions.