Domestic Law

In the state of Ohio, a marriage can be terminated either by divorce or dissolution. If the parties are unable to agree on the terms of their separation, including issues such as property and asset division, child custody/visitation, child or spousal support amounts, and division of debts, we advise that at least one party retain counsel and file a Complaint for Divorce in order to begin the litigation process. Alternatively, if the parties agree on all aspects of their separation, including, but not limited to the issues above, we advise that a party file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Separation Agreement.

Our goal is to negotiate with the other party or attorney representing the other party in an attempt to reach an agreement without the necessity of a trial. However, if we are forced to litigate a matter in court, we often use forensic accountants and other experts to testify regarding finances and other issues in court.

If an agreement is not reached by the parties during negotiations, or one party refuses to cooperate, the Judge will determine the division of assets and debts, as well as custody. Often in contested divorce matters which involve children, the parties can request or the court can appoint an attorney called a Guardian ad Litem, to represent the interest of the children. The Guardian ad Litem will interview and observe the children at home and sometimes at school to make a report and testify in court if shared parenting is appropriate or which parent should have primary custody of the children.

If an agreement is reached by the parties and a Petition of Dissolution of Marriage is filed, we often use the expertise of a private judge to hold a private hearing in our office at a time that is convenient for the parties and in a relaxed atmosphere.

County Websites:
Franklin County
Deleware County
Union County

Franklin County Local Rules:
Domestic Rules
Juvenile Rules

A Plan for Shared Parenting properly allocates the parental rights and responsibilities of the parties and includes all relevant factors to be considered in the care and support of the minor children of the parties including, but not limited to, physical location of the children, child support, medical, dental and psychological treatment, school placement and continuing contact between the minor children and the parties. One parent is designated the Aresidential parent for school placement purposes. This residential parent status is only for the school system to have an address of the children on record and does not give one parent more influence than the other.

Most courts prefer and encourage parties to enter into an agreement regarding the children that allows both parents to have input in the children’s upbringing including decisions regarding school, religion, and medical care, among others. When the parties consult each other regarding major decisions in their children=s lives, they adhere to the plan, often called a Shared Parenting Plan. This Plan outlines each parental issue to insure that the best interests of the children are maintained. The physical location of the children shall be known to both parties and each party shall notify the other party of any illness or other emergency that may arise while the children are in his or her possession. Both parents shall exert reasonable efforts to maintain free access and unhampered contact between each of them and the children. Open and free communication, by telephone or otherwise, shall be permitted with the parent who does not then have physical possession of the children.

Any parenting plan must be in the best interest of the children.

Sole Custody:
There are several reasons that sole custody rather than shared parenting is in the best interest of the children. Though most parents want to have input with regard to the children=s upbringing and have decision making ability, sometimes it is not appropriate in each situation. When considering sole custody versus shared parenting, we need to consider several concerns. Factors such as failure to make child support payments, allegations or convictions of neglect or abuse, residences of the parents located in different counties or states, if there has been any denial of visitation to one parent, mental and physical health of each parent and the children, and the wishes of the children are all considered.

If sole custody is ordered by the court, or agreed upon by the parties, the parent with sole custody is considered the residential parent and legal custodian of the children. The other parent will have parenting time with the children pursuant to a schedule agreed upon by the parties, or pursuant to a visitation local rule.

In the state of Ohio, child support is calculated pursuant to Ohio Child Support Guidelines. The courts have determined a formula to calculate child support to be fair to both parties. Various factors that are included in the child support formula are both parties income, the number of children, work related day care cost, and health care cost. The court can order, or the parties can agree on a deviation either upward or downward from the guideline child support amount. Often parties will deviate downward if one (1) party provides financial support toward extracurricular activities or provides transportation for the children.

Child Support payments are withheld from the parent’s wages and processed through the Child Support Enforcement Agency. Child support is established by agreement, at a Temporary Orders hearing, or at a final hearing.

The amount of child support can be modified if there has been a change in financial circumstances of the parties.

For more information about Child Support visit the Department of Jobs and Family Services: Office of Child Support at http://jfs.ohio.gov/Ocs/faq.stm

Spousal Support:
Spousal support (often called alimony) is not awarded in every case. However, one (1) party can be ordered or can agree to pay the other party spousal support for a determined length of time. When attempting to determine a fair and reasonable amount of spousal support, the court considers the following factors in Ohio Revised Code Section 3105.18(C)(1):

1. The income of the parties, from all sources, including, but not limited to, income derived from property divided, disbursed, or distributed by the court during the distribution of marital and separate property;
2. The relative earning abilities of the parties;
3. The ages and the physical, mental, and emotional conditions of the parties;
4. The retirement benefits of the parties;
5. The duration of the marriage;
6. The extent to which it would be inappropriate for a party, because he/she will be the custodian of a minor child of the marriage, to seek employment outside of the home;
7. The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage;
8. The relative extent of education of the parties;
9. The relative assets and liabilities of the parties, including but not limited to any court-ordered payments by the parties;
10. The contributions of each party to the education, training, or earning ability of the other party, including, but not limited to, any party’s contribution to the acquisition of a professional degree of the other party;
11. The time and expense necessary for the spouse who is seeking spousal support to acquire education, training, or job experience so that the spouse will be qualified to obtain appropriate employment, provided the education, training, or job experience, and employment is, in fact, sought;
12. The tax consequences for each party of an award of spousal support;
13. The lost income production capacity of either party that resulted from that party’s marital responsibilities; and,
14. Any other factor that the court expressly finds to be relevant and equitable.

When dividing property of a marriage, the court’s goal is to equalize the assets and liabilities of the parties. Generally, fifty percent (50%) is allocated to the husband and fifty percent (50%) is allocated to the wife. The division of the assets may vary depending on possible agreements of the parties and/or the court’s discretion. For example, the court may order that the marital residence be sold and the equity split 50/50 and all retirement accounts be split 50/50. On the other hand, if the court believes it is fair and reasonable, the court may order that the wife keep the marital residence and all equity in the residence and the husband keep his retirement account. In some instances, for example, the wife owes the husband a specific amount for credit card debt to be paid in a certain amount of time. Or perhaps, the parties agree that they will each pay the credit card debt they have accumulated in each individual name.

A joint interest in a business owned by the parties, or one (1) party, may also influence the division of assets and liabilities. An appraisal of a business is often necessary and involvement of a forensic accountant may be required.

Prenuptial Agreements can also determine the distribution of assets and liabilities and must be considered before the allocation of assets and liabilities.

Premarital property is also a consideration in property division. The ability to trace investments or property prior to the marriage is important to designate what portion of an asset is premarital and what portion was accumulated during the marriage.

Thomas Law Group advises and assists clients with preparing and entering into Prenuptial Agreements, also referred to as Antenuptial Agreements.  We recommend that anyone contemplating marriage at least consider the benefits of a Prenuptial Agreement.

A Prenuptial Agreement not only addresses the possibility of the marriage ending in divorce, but can also help plan for how finances will be handled during the marriage.  The distribution of property and assets upon the death of one of the spouses in a marriage can also be addressed in a Prenuptial Agreement.  In this sense, a Prenuptial Agreement is more of an estate planning tool and is immensely helpful in providing clarity upon the death of a spouse.  This is especially true when the parties contemplating marriage have been married before, have children from a prior marriage or relationship, or are getting married later in life.

 A Prenuptial Agreement will allow both spouses in the marriage to provide for their children, family members, etc. that are not of the current marriage.  Prenuptial Agreements are also useful tools for anyone getting married who may own a business, brings substantial assets into the marriage, has inherited wealth (or the anticipation of inheriting wealth), or when there is a large disparity of income between the two future spouses.

In Ohio, a Prenuptial Agreement must be entered into prior to the marriage date, as Ohio does not provide for post-nuptial agreements.  We suggest that any person considering a Prenuptial Agreement do so well in advance of the wedding date, and that both parties obtain their own legal counsel.