People believe that dissolutions in Ohio are cheap, quick and easy. They can be. In my legal career, I have probably completed more than 300 dissolutions. Of those, probably fewer than 30 failed, and by fail, I mean someone backed out at the hearing, up and filed for divorce or the court refused to approve the agreement.
Dissolutions are Ohio’s version of no-fault divorce. Dissolutions do not require grounds (a “reason”), not even incompatibility. Dissolutions have no venue requirement so they can be filed in any one of Ohio’s eight-eight counties. There are no process servers saying “you’ve been served” at inopportune times.
Time is money in the legal world so the short thirty (30) day waiting period is a huge draw. Ohio requires a 30 day “cooling off” period before a court can conduct the required hearing.
The thirty days is misleading. To even start the clock on the cooling off period, both parties must have disclosed all of their assets, liabilities and income; agreed on every property and debt issue, including retirements; and agreed on every child issue. Then they must review and approve a separation agreement and ancillary paperwork. Only when the clerk file-stamps the entire package, does the 30 days commence.
At the end of 30 days, but before the 90th day, the parties must appear for a dissolution hearing. These hearings vary greatly in complexity accordingly to the judge and county. If either party has changed their mind and states that they no longer want to go forward, then the hearing is at least postponed; the entire case may be dismissed entirely. The other person then has the unenviable job of then starting over by filing a divorce complaint.
What is it about dissolutions that go awry?
1. Negotiations take time.
Complex cases can be settled in dissolutions, but this usually requires documentation of assets and income. People who are enticed by the 30-day rule have a hard time understanding that it doesn’t even start to run until they’ve done all the hard work of disclosures, negotiations and finalizing paperwork.
2. Some people are simply not good candidates for dissolution.
People who are unreliable for any reason, such as drugs, alcohol, mental health issues, or just plain spite, are risky candidates for dissolutions. It is just too easy to miss a hearing, change your mind, or otherwise play games with the other person’s future.
3. Abusive partners are risky in dissolutions.
It is far too easy for the abuse to continue, out of sight of the victim’s lawyer, during the dissolution process. If you are intimidated by your partner, you can’t have a meaningful negotiation.
I do a hard screen on every potential dissolution case. If you do not trust your partner’s honesty, then a divorce is almost always the smart choice. A successful dissolution should take only a couple of weeks to file. If it is taking longer, the case will probably drag on.
The best advice I have is to always give yourself a deadline. If the case has not progressed to point A by time B, then it is probably time to file for divorce. As always, the client controls the deadlines.
My Scary Stories:
A couple spent three years negotiating a dissolution on a no child case.
A wife came to the dissolution wearing her wedding gown and announced that “I wore this when he married me and I’m wearing it when he divorced me.”
A husband refused to say that he wanted the court to grant a dissolution of their marriage. It was off to file for divorce for the wife.
A judge refused to grant a dissolution where all the assets were going to the husband and none to the wife. Overreaching is never a good strategy.
So, the take-away here is that 30 days is rarely 30 days in the legal world and if your spouse is a goof, he/she will be worse during a dissolution.