Both a divorce and a dissolution will result in a termination of your marriage, but there are many differences between the two proceedings.

In a dissolution, the parties work out all of their issues regarding division of property, parenting, and support prior to filing any documents with the court. The agreement is set forth in a document called a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement, which is filed with the court along with a Petition for Dissolution. A hearing is then held 30-90 days from the date of filing to review the Agreement and confirm both parties are still asking for a dissolution. A dissolution is often the fastest and most cost-effective way to terminate a marriage.

A divorce is generally a more adversarial proceeding. In a divorce, one spouse files a complaint for divorce against the other party, seeking a termination of the marriage and asking the court to resolve the issues regarding division of property, parenting, and support.  The other party then has 28 days to file an answer. The process of a traditional court case then begins, involving pretrial and a discovery period. A divorce is generally a more lengthy and expensive process than a dissolution and requires more court involvement. A divorce offers protections not available through a dissolution, including temporary restraining orders for property and temporary child and spousal support orders.

People in general conversation often refer to a divorce or a dissolution as a legal separation. In reality though, a legal separation is a different type of lawsuit. A legal separation is a civil lawsuit which allows parties to separate their assets and liabilities and resolve issues regarding child support and spousal support without actually terminating their marriage. There is a six-month residency requirement to file for divorce in an Ohio court, but the same requirement does not exist for legal separation. For that reason, a plaintiff can file for legal separation to obtain court orders for support, etc., and convert to a divorce action once the six-month residency requirement is satisfied. A legal separation may also be an option where parties cannot divorce for religious reasons, or desire to protect one spouse’s access to health insurance coverage, life insurance benefits, and retirement accounts.

It is important to remember that in a legal separation, you retain your marital status, meaning that you are not free to marry another; once you are divorced, you can remarry.  In addition, if you are legally separated, a spouse is still considered next of kin and can still make medical or financial decisions for the other, a spouse may still be held responsible for the debt of the other, and a spouse’s rights are preserved as to property benefits upon the death of the other.  However, a divorce or dissolution would extinguish all of these rights.

You may have a sense of which proceeding is right for you. Our family law attorneys will walk you through that decision to ensure that it is appropriate in your particular case.

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