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Ways to Terminate your Marriage in Ohio: Divorce, Dissolution, Annulment, and Legal Separation

There are a number of ways to terminate your marriage in Ohio. We often hear the terms dissolution and divorce used interchangeably, or there are many questions surrounding the two seeking an understanding of the differences. Potential clients sometimes indicate that they are interested in a dissolution because they have heard that the process is quicker and less expensive than divorce. While this can be true, parties (the two spouses) need to be in total agreement on the terms of the termination of marriage. This includes hot buttons such as child custody, child support, and division of property, retirement accounts, home equity, etc.

Attorney Chris Trolinger explains that “dissolution begins where a divorce ends.” This means that in a dissolution, the parties are starting in full agreement, whereas with divorce, the parties go through a longer and potentially more arduous process to find agreement or obtain a decision defining where the chips will land.


A dissolution of marriage takes place when both spouses petition the court to terminate their marriage. The parties must agree upon all terms and conditions of how the marriage is terminated before filing. Essentially the process begins in total agreement between the spouses.

Many times, the respective spouses negotiate between themselves before hiring a divorce attorney. Contacting a divorce attorney early in this process is the best practice to ensure that you are negotiating with the necessary knowledge to make sure your rights are protected.

If you have children, then you can still obtain a dissolution if both parents agree on custody, parenting time, child support, and all other related issues.


Divorce is a civil lawsuit to end a marriage.

Procedurally, one spouse, the plaintiff, files a complaint with the clerk of court to start a divorce. In the complaint, plaintiff must claim and eventually prove the appropriate statutory grounds for divorce. Discuss the statutory grounds and facts with an Ohio-based divorce attorney.

The other party, the defendant, is served a copy of the complaint and a summons by the clerk of court. Service is made by certified mail, process server, or sheriff’s service. If plaintiff has no knowledge of the defendant’s whereabouts, a legal notice will be published in a local newspaper. This publication method of service is effective for obtaining a divorce decree but generally is ineffective for obtaining orders about matters such as spousal or child support. The defendant has 28 days after service to file an answer to respond to the complaint. The defendant may file a counterclaim requesting a divorce, stating the grounds the defendant believes apply. The plaintiff files a reply in response to the counterclaim.

A divorce can be contested or uncontested. When the spouses reach an agreement as to all aspects of their divorce (grounds, finances, spousal support, property, and child-related issues), then the divorce is considered uncontested. Some divorces become uncontested very early in the litigation and others become uncontested right before or during the trial. Most divorces become uncontested at some point prior to trial. The agreement is written and presented to the judge for approval at an uncontested final divorce hearing, eliminating the need for a trial.

If the spouses are unable to reach an agreement on all issues, then the divorce will result in a contested trial before a judge or magistrate. Evidence regarding your child-related or financial matters is presented to a judge or magistrate for their consideration. The judge or magistrate then issues their decision establishing the terms upon which your marriage is terminated.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is a legal proceeding to divide the assets and liabilities of the marriage, determine spousal support/alimony, establish child support, and determine the custody and parenting time arrangements regarding your children. A legal separation does not terminate your marriage, nor is it required prior to obtaining a divorce or dissolution. There are different requirements and conditions on residency and jurisdiction. It is important to consult with an experienced divorce attorney to know when a legal separation provides you with strategic benefits and/or is appropriate for your situation.

Legal separation may be preferred over divorce when:

  • You believe that you will reconcile.
  • You observe religious beliefs that require you to keep a marriage intact.
  • You wish to keep health insurance benefits as though you are married.
  • You have not lived in Ohio for 6 months or longer but wish to have an enforceable order separating property and establishing terms.


Annulment is another way to terminate your marriage in Ohio. An annulment not only terminates your marriage, but a court also determines that the marriage was void or voidable. In other words, the court not only terminates your marriage but can determine that the marriage did not exist in the first place. For a marriage to be void, it must be an illegal marriage, I.e., incest (marriage to a first cousin or closer), bigamy/polygamy. A voidable marriage for purposes of obtaining an annulment is a marriage where one or both parties were underage at the time of the marriage, the marriage was a result of fraud or force, the marriage was unconsummated, or where one spouse was unable to consent to the marriage due to mental incompetence, incapacity, or disability.

Understanding What’s Next

When considering ways to terminate your marriage in Ohio, it is important to seek legal representation with an experienced divorce lawyer early. From the start, you need to ensure that you know your rights, risks, and options. Developing a legal strategy is key to protecting your interests and limiting potential consequences should your spouse seek to take vindictive or selfish actions. Choosing an Ohio divorce attorney with experience, knowledge, and compassion can make all the difference during a divorce proceeding, ensuring a smooth and satisfactory result.