To that end, we would like to offer this simple guide to help give you an idea of what you can expect moving forward in your case. There are three categories of legal issues you’re your attorney will need to address in order to complete the dissolution of a marriage: 1) parenting issues; 2) division of property; 3) financial support. Below is a quick guide on the very basics of each category so that you can better understand what issues your attorney will be focusing on, to better prepare you for meeting your attorney for the first time.
(1) Parenting issues. If you are a parent, protecting the wellbeing of your children will be your attorney’s top priority (as well as that of the Court, should you find yourself in a litigated divorce). While there are a myriad of individual issues that will need be addressed in figuring out how you and your spouse will parent your children going forward, there are two distinct legal questions that will be addressed in relation to parenting:
(a) Custody. In Ohio, having custody of a child means having the legal authority to make decisions on that child’s behalf for everything from medical care, to school placement, to religious upbringing. Ohio Courts have the authority to award sole custody to one parent, meaning only that parent has the legal authority to make such decisions for the child. Courts also have the authority to award the parents shared parenting, meaning both parents continue to have legal decision making authority. Shared Parenting often means that you and you former spouse will continue to work together to reach agreements on all major decisions for your children; however, Shared Parenting can sometimes mean that one parent has authority over certain types of decisions, such as medical care, and another parent has authority over other decisions, such as school placement. The method and means by which decisions are made in a Shared Parenting arrangement will be laid out in a legal document called a Shared Parenting Plan. No two Shared Parenting Plans are the same- each Plan is specifically tailored to each family’s unique circumstances.
(b) Parenting Time. While parenting time is related to child custody, the allocation of parenting time is in no way dependent upon the allocation of child custody. A parent may be awarded sole custody of a child, but still share equal parenting time with the other parent; conversely, a family may have shared parenting, but the child may live primarily with only one parent. Each county in Ohio has their own set of guideline parenting time schedules based on the age and developmental stages of a child. These may help give you an idea of what you may be able to expect in the event that you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting time schedule, but they are by no means a one-size-fits-all solution, and a court may find that the guidelines are not right for your family. Your attorney will be able to discuss with you different options for parenting schedules, and help you build a system that best fits your family’s unique needs.
(2) Division of Property. One of the biggest tasks you and your attorney will face during your divorce or dissolution is identifying and dividing your marital property and liabilities. All of the assets that you and your spouse own (real estate, bank accounts, retirement assets, vehicles, etc.) may be either marital property, meaning that it was acquired during the marriage through the exercise of marital effort or purchased with marital funds; separate property, meaning that it was acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage, or received by one spouse during the marriage by means of gift or inheritance; or mixed property, meaning that some portion, but not all, of an asset’s value can be traced back to some sort of separate or non-marital contribution. Once all marital and non-marital property has been identified, all of the property will be equitably divided between you and your spouse. If you and your spouse have debt, your marital liabilities will also be equitably divided between you and your spouse. Your attorney will be able to help you with any questions you may have about tracing your separate property and give you an idea of what you can expect to receive in the division of your property.
(3) Financial support. If you have children, or if there is a disparity in income between you and your spouse, chances are there will be an exchange of financial support for a period time after your marriage has ended. If you have children, one parent may receive child support from the other parent. Child support is determined by a statutorily prescribed formula; however, in some cases it is equitable and appropriate to deviate from the support prescribed by the formula. Parenting time schedules and the allocation of extraordinary expenses of the children (such as private school tuition or child care) could potentially give rise to a deviation from the statutorily-prescribed child support amount. Child support is intended for the care and maintenance of your minor children, so in most cases, a parent’s child support obligation will end once your children have emancipated or graduated from high school.
In addition to child support, you may be paying or receiving spousal support for a period of time following your divorce or dissolution. Unlike child support, there is no statutory formula to determine spousal support. There are statutory factors that a court must consider in deciding to award spousal support, such as the duration of the marriage, the ages of the parties, and the relative earning abilities of the parties, but courts have a huge amount of discretion in determining the amount and duration of such support. Through negotiation, mediation, or collaboration, parties may be able to agree on a support structure that meets the needs of their family, without having to face the unknown outcome of a court’s decision; however, sometimes agreements cannot be reached, and the decision will be left up to a judge or magistrate. An experienced family law attorney will be familiar with the different practices of judges and magistrates in the area, and be able to assist you in understanding what kind of support order you can expect from a particular court, and help you assess your best options based on that information.
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