Being served with divorce papers can put you on an emotional rollercoaster, even if you knew you were going to be served. So, how do you respond? While you may be hurt, frustrated or angry, this is a time when you need to take a deep breath, get your financial and other important documents in order, and find out what the proper procedure is so that you can best protect your rights. In Ohio, a divorce or dissolution of marriage can be granted because of incompatibility (although a spouse can deny that to be the case) or when spouses have lived separately and apart, without interruption, for one year. Fault-based grounds for divorce include:
- Bigamy (either party already had a husband or wife at the time of the marriage from which the divorce is sought)
- Willful abandonment for one year
- Extreme cruelty; whether physical, emotional or psychological
- Fraudulent contract
- Gross neglect of duty (such as the neglect to fulfill the duty of mutual respect, support or fidelity)
- Habitual drunkenness or substance abuse
- Imprisonment of the “adverse party” in either a state or federal correctional institution at the time the claim for divorce was filed
Do not be alarmed when you see one or more of these fault-based grounds on your divorce paperwork – it must be done to avoid a case dismissal. Also, almost every modern divorce is eventually granted on the basis of incompatibility (no-fault).
Generally speaking, you have several different options when facing divorce in Ohio:
Option 1: File an answer
Filing an answer means you disagree with some or all of the claims being made and the divorce is considered to be contested. You, along with your divorce lawyer, may file an Answer and Counterclaim. In this case, it is as though you are filing for divorce and have your own claims for grounds, and your spouse will have to respond and either admit or deny claims. You and your spouse do have the opportunity to try and resolve all outstanding issues before going to trial, and in fact, this is how most cases are resolved. If full agreement cannot be reached, the case will go to trial.
Option 2: Don’t respond
Theoretically, it is an option, but it’s definitely not a good choice. When you don’t respond, you give up all of your rights. The court will award your spouse a divorce based on the facts presented. This is called a “default judgment.” When that happens, you have no say in matters of custody, support or division of property, even if the terms are unfair to you or the information your spouse gave the court is less than truthful.
Option 3: Request mediation or collaborative divorce
You can request that the case be paused in order to engage in mediation, or to enter Ohio’s collaborative divorce process. Some courts will only allow mediation when both parties agree; some courts require it in most cases. For collaborative divorce, both parties must agree.
What is the best option for you when responding to Ohio divorce papers?
It can be hard to make the right choice when you are mired in the emotional turmoil of a divorce, so it is in your best interest and that of your children to seek experienced legal counsel. To learn more about your rights, please call us at 614-505-5555 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation about your situation.