Written by Kevin Sinech
The procedure works this way: Before or after a divorce action is filed, you, your spouse or both of you can file a petition with the court either to preserve your marriage through reconciliation, or to amicably settle any issue between the two of you and avoid further litigation. User friendly forms are provided, and happy, friendly deputy clerks will make sure you have everything needed to file. And if you forgot your wallet, don’t worry. The process is free. That’s right, no filing fees and no charges for any other help you may need along the way. A simple cost-free petition and you are immediately on your way to Conciliation Court with your own Conciliation Judge.
Conciliation Judges are very special judges. They insist on conducting their proceedings informally. They can have their hearings anywhere they want within the jurisdiction of the county court. Ostensibly under the statute they can even hold hearings in your own home, although I think most Conciliation Judges draw the line at making house calls. Two lawyers are welcome, but one lawyer is not. If one side is represented and the other is not, the one lawyer is politely asked to get lost.
If you don’t like having your dirty family laundry hung out on the public laundry line known as the divorce court, Conciliation Court is likely the place for you. There your privacy is paramount, your hearings are private and your file is closed, shut tight. The only way the file can be opened is for the Conciliation Judge to order it opened.
Suppose your spouse has already sued you for divorce, and you really don’t want to upset her or him any more than they already are. Instead of filing a Petition for Conciliation on your own, the divorce court judge can do it for you. The divorce judge can do it at any time, one would think even the day of trial. To transfer your divorce to conciliation, the divorce judge only has to make a finding that the transfer “may prevent dissolution of the marriage or disruption of the household”. Given that you would otherwise be divorced for certain, the finding is obvious, something any divorce judge could find without really having to look very hard.
Children are especially welcome in Ohio’s Conciliation Court. Whenever a minor child’s welfare may be “affected by the parents’ controversy”, the Conciliation Judge must entertain any petition properly brought before him or her.
Perhaps the most important part of the statute is the “stay”. While you are in Conciliation Court, there is simply no way your spouse can divorce you. If a divorce action has already been filed, it is put on hold at least until 30 days after your conciliation process is over.
The Ohio Conciliation Court is as close to a panacea for saving marriages on the brink of divorce as any procedure ever enacted into law. Ohio should be congratulated. With the often cited figure of 30% of divorcing couples being reconcilable, one can just imagine a conciliation docket crowded with husbands and wives all too eager to try every last option before finally calling their marriages quits. The uncounted thousands of would-have-been-divorced people who have benefited from this procedure to go on to lead strengthened and productive married lives undoubtedly thank every day those wise legislators who gave them this option when divorce seemed the only way out.
Those legislators understood a profound truth. Marriage, not just divorce, needs its day in court.
I wish this was the happy ending to this story. I wish.
Of course, the Ohio Conciliation Court really exists, at least in one sense. But, in the other important sense, it just doesn’t. Those uncounted thousands? They really are uncounted because, much to my disappointment and the best of my knowledge, in the forty plus years of the statute’s existence, no county in Ohio has ever seated a Conciliation Judge. ORC 3117.01 states in pertinent part:
“Chapter 3117 of the Revised Code is applicable only in counties in which the court of common pleas determines that social conditions and the number of domestic relations cases in the county render the conciliation procedures provided necessary to proper consideration of such cases or to effectuate conciliation of marital controversies. (ORC 3117.01)”
Therefore, as regards saving marriages, I have to admit that my home state has shown a remarkable lack of determination, or lack of a determination. Despite the rising divorce rate, the free-falling marriage rate, the out-of-wedlock birthrate approaching 40%, custody and support problems that leave too many mothers in poverty and too many fathers in jail, and the absolute devastation with which all of the above “affects” children — despite all this, no Ohio county has ever instituted ORC Chapter 3117. One has to wonder, in what century will “social conditions render the conciliation procedures … necessary”?
The Conciliation of Marital Controversies exists in Ohio, but only on the pages of the Ohio Revised Code. This is sad for marriage, tragic for children.