What Is a Dissolution of Marriage?

A dissolution of marriage is almost always the same thing as divorce. Learn about the rare exceptions.

By , Legal Editor

State laws on divorce sometimes use terminology that might not be clear to people who aren't lawyers. One of those terms is "dissolution of marriage." Usually, this is just another word for divorce. But in a couple of states, it refers to a separate legal process. Read on for details.

When Dissolution Is the Same as Divorce

In many states, the laws dealing with divorce—and the forms you'll submit when you file for divorce—use the term dissolution of marriage to mean the same thing as divorce. You'll go through the same basic legal process to get divorced (more on that below). And the end results will be the same:

  • The court will issue a dissolution judgment or decree (which will typically incorporate your marital settlement agreement, if you have one) that addresses the important issues involved in ending your marriage, including the division of your property and debts, alimony (sometimes called spousal support or maintenance), and, if you have minor children, child custody and child support.
  • Once the judge issues your dissolution judgment, your marriage will be legally dissolved, and you'll be free to remarry.

Dissolution vs. Divorce: When Dissolution Is a Special Type of Divorce

Two states (Ohio and Alaska) use the term dissolution of marriage for what's usually called an uncontested divorce. In those states, the term "divorce" is reserved for contested divorces.

In order to qualify for a dissolution of marriage in these states, couples must:

In Alaska, couples must also agree on the no-fault ground for divorce. In Ohio, couples don't need to state a reason for seeking a dissolution of marriage.

With a dissolution of marriage in Ohio and Alaska, couples may skip many of the procedural steps involved in a regular divorce. It's worth pointing out, however, that the time and cost savings of dissolutions in these states are the same as for uncontested divorces in the rest of the country.

Other Terms for Divorce and Dissolution

There are different types of divorce and dissolution. Several states have special, streamlined procedures for uncontested divorce or dissolution for couples who meet strict requirements (such as no minor children and limits on the types and amount of property they own). These special procedures are known by various terms, including:

Also, a few states use other terms that mean the same thing as divorce, such as "absolute divorce" or "total divorce." Be aware, however, that some states use terms including the word divorce—such as "divorce from bed and board" or "limited divorce"—that are similar to legal separation. Although spouses may get court orders to arrange their affairs in a limited divorce or divorce from bed and board, they will still be legally married at the end of the process.

How to Get a Dissolution of Marriage: The Process

The process for getting a dissolution of marriage or divorce is basically the same, although there are some differences from state to state. Typically, you'll follow the following steps:

  • file the initial dissolution petition and other required paperwork with the court, including your settlement agreement if you already have one
  • serve your spouse with the documents that you filed (although you might be able to skip this step in some states and situations)
  • exchange required financial information with your spouse and the court
  • take any required parenting classes if you have children
  • submit final paperwork with the court, such as a proposed dissolution judgment
  • attend a final hearing (which might not be required with uncontested dissolutions in some states or counties), and
  • get your final dissolution judgment or decree, signed by the judge.

If your divorce or dissolution is contested, there could be several additional steps in the process, including depositions, pretrial motions, hearings, settlement conferences and negotiations, and—if you don't reach a settlement along the way—a trial. That's why uncontested dissolutions almost always cost less and take less time to complete than contested cases.

Getting Help With the Dissolution Process

You can learn more about how to file for dissolution or divorce in your state, including information about where to get the forms, where to file the paperwork, court filing fees, and service requirements.

If you have (or hope to have) a settlement agreement before you start the process, our articles on uncontested divorce or dissolution in each state will provide more details about the requirements and process. Mediation can help if you want a settlement for your dissolution but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all the issues. If you're able to reach a settlement before your start the dissolution process, you'll have the option of filing for divorce online with a service that will provide you with the completed forms and basically walk you through the process.

You can take our quiz to help figure out whether you can handle the dissolution process without hiring a lawyer. If you are in a situation that calls for a lawyer's help, here are some questions to ask before you hire a divorce attorney.

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