What are "grounds" or legal reasons for divorce in Ohio?
Ohio law permits the granting of a divorce only upon a finding by the court that there are statutory grounds to terminate the marriage. There must be testimony by the plaintiff and a corroborating witness (or an admission by the other spouse) as to these specific grounds.
Ohio has both "no-fault" and "fault" grounds for divorce. The "no-fault" grounds include "incompatibility" and "living separate and apart without cohabitation for one year."
How is a divorce case started in Ohio?
A divorce case is commenced by the filing of a "complaint." The spouse who files the complaint is called the "plaintiff." The other spouse is called the "defendant." The complaint must allege that the plaintiff has resided in the State of Ohio for the statutorily required period of time (6 months) immediately prior to the filing of the complaint; must indicate the date and place of marriage along with the name and birth dates of any minor children; there must be an allegation of at least one of the statutory grounds for divorce, and; it must contain a demand for the relief being requested from the court.
"Service" of the complaint must be made on the defendant in order to bring him or her within the jurisdiction of the court. There are several methods of service available, even if the defendant spouse lives in a state other than Ohio.
The defendant spouse should then file an "answer" to the complaint, admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint. If the defendant denies the allegations he/she may also raise any defenses he/she has. Additionally, the defendant spouse may also file a "counterclaim" asserting any claim he/she has against the plaintiff spouse for divorce or for a "legal separation."
If the defendant spouse files a counterclaim, the plaintiff must file a "reply," either admitting or denying the allegations contained in the counterclaim and raising any defenses that the plaintiff may have.
What if the defendant spouse cannot be located or evades service of the complaint?
Where the current residence of the defendant is unknown, "constructive" service may be had on him/her by publication. Service by publication permits the court to commence the case and rule on the status of the marriage and the marital property located within the state. Unless the defendant has been personally served or has voluntarily entered an appearance in the case, however, the court cannot rule on property outside the state and cannot make a ruling on spousal support
What if the defendant is served with the complaint but does not file an answer or otherwise make an appearance in the case?
The court rules in Ohio preclude the granting of a default judgment in a divorce case. Instead, where the defendant has been personally served but has failed to file an answer or otherwise appear, the plaintiff must merely present sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case to allow the court to grant the divorce and rule on the division of property, parental rights and responsibilities regarding the children and any support orders.
What happens after the filing of the complaint and answer/counterclaim?
During the pendency of the divorce case, either party can request temporary orders for child support, spousal support (alimony), parental rights and responsibilities (commonly referred to as temporary custody or visitation rights), and any other temporary order that may be called for in a particular case such as a temporary restraining order restraining one or both spouses from removing the children from the jurisdiction of the court or restraining one or both spouses from harassing, threatening or physically abusing the other.
Additionally, during this time the parties can request that the court order psychological or psychiatric evaluations of the parties and/or the children to aid the court in making determinations with regard to the parental rights and responsibilities concerning the children. Home studies can be requested to help the court in determining the living conditions of the parties and how those conditions may affect the children. Discovery procedures, such as interrogatories and depositions, can be engaged in that would aid the parties in determining what assets are involved in the case, what plans the parties have for the children and any other matters that are relevant to the divorce action. Experts may be retained to appraise property and businesses.
The court will probably hold one or more pretrials during this time in an attempt to determine whether a mutually agreeable resolution of the case can be had and, if not, what the issues are that will have to be determined at trial. If the case cannot be resolved, the court will set dates for the conclusion of the discovery procedures, for the production of expert reports and evaluations and for the date of the final hearing (trial).
Can the children's interests be protected?
A "guardian ad litem" (GAL) can be appointed by the court at the request of either party or upon the court's own motion to represent the interests of the minor children of the parties. The GAL is usually an attorney familiar with domestic relations law and his/her job is to act in the best interests of the children. The parties will generally be required to pay the fees of the GAL based upon their ability to pay. The GAL will be asked to make recommendations to the court and will have considerable influence when it comes time for the court to make determinations relating to the children
Is there a right to a jury trial in a divorce case? .
No. Ohio does not permit jury trials in divorce cases. If the case goes to trial, the judge will make the final determinations.
What are the major legal issues in a divorce case?
Generally, the major issues in divorce cases are, the issue of the grounds for the divorce itself, parental rights and responsibilities (commonly known as custody, child support, visitation), spousal support (commonly called alimony), and the division of the marital property and debts of the parties.
How does the judge make a final decision?
Both parties will provide the judge with information and documentation regarding all of the issues relevant to the case. The court will have any of the various expert reports that may have been ordered during the time that the case has been pending. The court will hold hearings and a trial where the parties present witnesses, including expert witnesses, testimony and any other evidence that is properly admitted at the time of trial. The judge will consider the recommendations of the guardian ad litem, if one has been appointed. The judge may interview the children if requested or if he/she feels it would be beneficial to do so. The judge is then required to make a decision based on the evidence presented and the law. While the judge has some discretion, he/she must comply with the law.
What if I'm not happy with the final decision of the judge?
A party who is not satisfied with the final decision of the trial judge has a right to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. Appeals are relatively expensive ($10,000.00 - $15,000.00 is not unusual) and there is no guaranty that an appeal will be successful. Generally, the only matters that can be appealed are that the judge has abused his/her discretion or that the judge has misapplied the law in making the final determination. An appeal is not a new trial. It is a wholly different type of procedure and is strictly a legal proceeding. No witnesses or evidence are presented. An appeal is based solely on the proceedings had in the trial court and whether or not substantial justice was done.