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Understanding "no-fault" divorce and your privacy
by The Center for Principled Family Advocacy
The end of a marriage is a matter of public record in Ohio. Still, in many cases, you can keep details of your private life out of court records—where anyone could read and repeat them. Dissolution and no fault divorce are two approaches offering some privacy protection.

Ohio divorce law and practice has evolved to accommodate different approaches to terminating marriage. Sometimes your approach is pre-determined by circumstances. In most cases, with a little cooperation from your spouse, you can take steps to maintain your privacy.

However, if the divorce is contested and one spouse intent on causing the other discomfort, you can expect to read and hear all about yourself in court filings and proceedings. In addition, depending on who you are and how spectacular your excesses, you might also hear about yourself in the media.

Privacy is just another reason that most divorcing couples, even if they can now barely stand mention of each other, are better off reaching agreement without resorting to litigation.

Dissolution provides the most privacy protection in Ohio

In Ohio, divorce and dissolution are distinct legal actions. Couples ending their marriage cooperatively can file for dissolution.

Working with each other, couples negotiate a settlement of all marital issues outside of court. Typically, they seek assistance from their attorneys and possibly arbitrators, mediators, counselors and clergy or other advisors. Whatever works.

Once all the issues are settled as required by Ohio law and the terms described in a separation agreement, you file for dissolution. The details of what led to the end of the marriage need not be included in the public record.

The separation agreement must be completed before the dissolution is filed. Additional forms will be required and the separation agreement must be approved by the court. Both spouses must physically attend the dissolution hearing or the petition cannot be granted.

Divorce is based on one or more of 11 faults.

Dissolution requires cooperation. Divorce is adversarial. If a couple wants to terminate their marriage but cannot settle their issues, one spouse must file for divorce.

The divorce complaint must allege at least one of nine "fault" or two "no-fault" grounds. Divorce on fault grounds is granted only if at least one witness supports the alleged fault. Because corroboration is required, details of the fault or faults will become public record.

The fault grounds are adultery, bigamy, willful absence for more than a year, extreme cruelty, habitual drunkenness, gross neglect of duty, fraudulent contract, imprisonment in a state or federal penal institution and gaining a divorce in another state.

"No-fault" divorce in Ohio

Clearly, citing a fault ground against your spouse in the public record can work against your interests. You could reveal something that makes it difficult for them to maintain employment or move on to a new life, two things you might desperately want.

When one spouse files for divorce, usually the other spouse files what is known as an answer. Sometimes the filing of a complaint and answer motivates a couple to reach agreement out of court. If they are successful in coming to terms, the court will allow them to withdraw the answer and move the case to judgment incorporating their agreement.

However amicable the eventual resolution, the listing of faults and detailed allegations in an initial complaint remain in the public record. The damage is done.

If you prefer to live your new life peacefully, you can elect a less revelatory strategy in Ohio: no-fault divorce.

Nine fault grounds, two blameless no-faults

The term "no-fault" does not appear in Ohio family law. In practice nearly every divorce in the state is filed on a no-fault basis.

No-fault refers to citing one of two non-blaming grounds for divorce found in the Ohio Revised Code: incompatibility and voluntarily living separately for at least one year.

You can file on a no-fault basis even if the real reason for divorce is one of those nine less pleasant "blame" faults. And with cooperation, you can keep between yourselves the real cause and details of the end of your marriage. This is true even if you go on to contest bitterly in court the division of assets, parental rights or the divorce itself.

No matter how you feel, start with no-fault

You give up nothing by filing on a no-fault basis. You can amend your complaint later to add a fault. Alternatively, you can list a no-fault ground "plus unspecified others to be introduced at trial" in your initial complaint.

Even if you do prove at trial that your spouse committed without shame one of the nine fault grounds, in Ohio you will not get a bigger slice of the property. However, there can be reductions in parental rights if the fault involved criminal or other behavior harmful to others.

Some contend you create negotiating advantage by omitting the real cause from the initial complaint. The potential for disclosure of harmful or embarrassing behavior might motivate cooperation. Whether such leverage should be used at all, or ever for destructive purposes, is an individual decision.

Moving on

Fortunately, at this point, most people simply want to complete the process and move on. To do that, they must comply with the requirements of their chosen no-fault strategy.

If the divorce complaint cites incompatibility, both spouses must affirm it before the court. If one insists at the judgment hearing that the two of you remain perfectly suited, the divorce will be denied.

If the no-fault ground cited is living apart for one year, the separation must be voluntarily. For example, you can’t ditch your spouse because the armed forces extend their tour of duty.

The separation must also be uninterrupted and without cohabitation. Couples sometimes reconcile only to reaffirm their desire to divorce. However brief the reconciliation, legally it means 12 more months before they can cite living apart as grounds. If you cannot abide waiting 365 more days, you can cite incompatibility.

Usually revelation of personal behavior has far less impact than people fear or estimate. Still, no one can guarantee that. If you prefer keep what happened in your marriage between you and your soon-to-be ex, the best advice is find it within yourself to cooperate on resolving the end of your marriage.

Attorney members of the Center for Principled Family Advocacy can guide spouses seeking divorce to the end of marriage of strategy best suited to their needs and desire for privacy.


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