What's The Difference Between Dissolution Of Marriage & Divorce

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The ordeal of ending a relationship is never easy, but it should not necessarily have to be with a conflict or argument. Dissolution of marriage can be your option to end things on mutual terms with the legal proceedings and protocols. The process is an official settlement for ending a marriage, so both parties can part ways peacefully. If you are in that part of your life where you seek support for ending your marriage, this post can help you with the common procedure that needs to be followed for the disintegration of marriage in the US.

What Is Dissolution Of Marriage?

 Both the parties come to a mutual agreement.

Image: iStock

Dissolution of marriage is the legal procedure to end a marriage officially. In dissolution, both the parties come to a mutual agreement on the division of marital property, spousal support, parental rights, and child support. So, there is no space for accusations and counter-accusations.

You can file for the dissolution of marriage on the grounds that fall within the legal framework of the state legislature.

Is The Dissolution of marriage different from divorce?

They are used synonymously. Both dissolution and divorce are the legal ways to end a marriage and are used interchangeably. However, in a dissolution of marriage, both the parties come to a mutual agreement regarding the distribution of property, child custody, alimony, etc., and the court passes the decree without any further trials.

On the other hand, divorce happens when the parties have a disagreement and decide to fight it out in court. The court intervenes and settles the disputes in a series of trials.

What Are The Grounds For Dissolution Of Marriage?

In the US, each state has its own set of grounds. The below flowchart covers the most common grounds for dissolution of marriage, followed by a detailed explanation:

The Grounds for dissolution of marriage

* They are not the grounds but the type of marriage that the couple might have entered.

1. Grounds for no-fault dissolution of marriage

In this type, both the partners file a petition of mutual agreement to separate without the need to prove the fault of their spouse. The most common ground in the case of no-fault dissolution is “irreparable breakdown of marriage” or “irreconcilable differences”.

After both the partners have agreed and signed the petition for this type of dissolution, they cannot object to the other party’s plea for dissolution. In this type of dissolution, the couple needs to stay apart for a certain period of time before filing the petition.

In the US, a few states accept only the no-fault grounds. Next, we tell you about the various aspects of such dissolution of marriage.

I. The true no-fault states: 17 US states grant the dissolution on the no-fault grounds only. This means the divorce is granted on the basis of “irreconcilable differences” between the couple. The court does not allow casting faults as a ground for the dissolution of marriage. However, if there are faults, they could be considered as a factor at the time of granting child custody, dividing the property, providing alimony, etc.

The true no-fault states are Wisconsin, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Hawaii, Florida, Colorado, and California.

The below table covers the basic features of a true no-fault dissolution in each state:

StateResidency requirementProperty divisionDo-it-yourself dissolution
OregonSix months or 180 days before filing for dissolution
  • Equitable division: The property (acquired separately and together by the couple) will be divided between both the parties as per their       agreement.
  • In the absence of an agreement, the court shall serve as per its discretion, which may or may not be an equal distribution.
NevadaAt least six weeksCommunity property: Any income or property earned by the couple during their marriage is community property and is divided equally.Yes
NebraskaOne yearEquitable divisionYes
Montana90 daysEquitable divisionYes
MinnesotaSix months or 180 daysEquitable division
HawaiiSix monthsEquitable divisionYes
Colorado3 months or 90 daysEquitable divisionYes
Wisconsin30 daysCommunity property divisionYes
Kentucky180 daysEquitable distributionYes
Washington90 daysCommunity property distributionYes
Missouri90 daysEquitable distributionYes
Michigan1 yearEquitable distributionYes
Iowa1 yearEquitable distributionYes

Child custody and support in the true no-fault states:

The court usually looks for joint custody.

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The court usually looks for joint custody. Where that is not possible, it will consider factors such as emotional ties, interest, desirability, and absence of abusive behavior while deciding the custody. The individual income levels are also a deciding factor.

II. Exceptions among the true no-fault states

A few states among the true no-fault states accept “incurable insanity” as a ground for dissolution, along with “irreconcilable differences”. If the spouse is insane and mentally incompetent for some time, and the doctors have confirmed that there is no chance of recovery, or if the partner fails to perform marital duties, then the court will accept the dissolution of marriage. Those states include:

StateResidency requirementProperty divisionDo it yourself dissolution
California6 monthsCommunity property distributionYes
Florida6 monthsEquitable distributionYes
Kansas60 daysEquitable distributionYes
Indiana6 monthsEquitable distributionYes
North Carolina6 monthsEquitable distributionYes

Process For Dissolution Of Marriage Under No-Fault Grounds

The official divorce forms can be obtained from the court.

Image: iStock

  1. Both the partners must come to a mutual agreement that they are intending to dissolve the marriage due to irrevocable differences.
  1. Each state in the US has specific requirements when it comes to the residency, property settlements and child support, check what is applicable to you.
  1. Come to a mutual agreement on all the aspects of the dissolution, such as the distribution of marital property, child support and custody, and alimony.
  1. The official divorce forms can be obtained from the court clerk, online or from your local library.
  1. Fill in the forms and submit them, along with the necessary proofs, at the court clerk’s office. You may have to pay a filing fee.
  1. The spouse must be notified, and a proof of that must be attached.
  1. Unless there are any objections or obstacles, there will be one hearing, and the judge will ask for any additional information needed.
  1. After the waiting period, the judge will sign a certificate officially dissolving the marriage.

2. Grounds For Fault Dissolution Of Marriage

Addictions such as alcohol could be the reason for dissolution

Image: iStock

In this type, there is no agreement between the couple. The divorce is initiated by one of the partners stating one or multiple grounds for the dissolution. In such cases, the court will tell the defendant to counter.

The marriage cannot be dissolved and is now termed as a divorce, wherein both the parties have to hire lawyers and proceed to trial until the court grants divorce as well as decides on the property distribution and child custody rights. Fault dissolutions do not require the partners to live apart for a specific period of time.

The usual grounds for a fault dissolution of marriage are:

  • Adultery
  • Voluntary abandonment for a certain period of time
  • When one of the partners is facing life imprisonment in any state for a period of more than one year and has a minimum sentence of seven years
  • The commission of a crime against nature or a beast either before or during the marriage
  • Getting into addictions such as alcohol, narcotics, etc., after marriage
  • Confinement of the partner to an asylum and is declared incurable at the time of filing the petition.
  • If the wife gets pregnant during their marriage without the husband’s knowledge
  • In the case of violent, cruel and inhuman treatment

The rest of the states except the true no-fault states accept both fault and no-fault grounds for dissolution of marriage. However, as mentioned in the previous section, the five states from the no-fault category accept only insanity as the ground.

Covenant and non-covenant marriages

In states like Arizona, Louisiana, and Arkansas there is an option to choose from the covenant and non-covenant marriages. The main differences between these two are:

  • In a covenant marriage, the couple needs to seek pre-marital counseling as well as counseling before filing for dissolution.
Experts say
Premarital counseling is an effective mechanism that equips couples with the skills they require to forge a harmonious relationship (23).
  • The grounds for filing dissolution in a covenant marriage are fewer when compared to non-covenant marriage.
  • Irrevocable differences is not an adequate reason for seeking the dissolution of a covenant marriage.
  • The couple has to stay apart for two years prior to the filing of dissolution and one year apart after the decree of legal separation.

Process For Dissolution Of Marriage Under Fault Grounds

Both parties need to hire legal help.

Image: iStock

In this type of dissolution, the partner chooses to cast a fault such as adultery, abandonment, a felony, imprisonment, etc., on the other partner for the failure of the marriage.

  1. Both parties need to hire legal help to represent them in court.
  1. As per the reason quoted for the dissolution of marriage, the judge might ask for additional proofs to substantiate the accusations.
  1. The defendant spouse is notified through a legal notice, and they need to attend the court hearings.
  1. There would be multiple hearings until the court is convinced that the fault stated for the dissolution is true.
  1. The division of assets, alimony and child custody will be decided by the court.

Do You Need A Lawyer For Dissolution Of Marriage?

Not necessary. You can proceed with a do-it-yourself dissolution of marriage if your case meets the following criteria.

  • Both the parties have opted for a no-fault ground for the dissolution.
  • Both you and your partner have come to a mutual agreement about the assets division, child custody, spousal support, etc.
  • You have adequate information about your family’s assets and debts.
  • You have the time and patience to acquire all the papers, fill the forms and file them.
  • You have hired a professional mediator to deal with one or two minor issues that are blocking the dissolution.

You may hire a lawyer if your divorce is based on any of the fault grounds as you need someone to represent you in the court to prove your allegations. Also, consider hiring a lawyer if you are emotionally unstable or not sure of the procedure.

Research finds
In 2019, the Institute for Family Studies recorded the lowest number of divorces in the U.S., with only 14.9 of every 1,000 marriages within the last fifty years (24).

What Is A Certificate Of Dissolution Of Marriage?

It is an official court decree or order that states a particular marriage is no longer valid. In many states, the court signs an official order for dissolution of marriage. It contains the details of marital property distribution and the date of dissolution.

This certificate is needed for various post-divorce activities such as updating insurance policies, changing bank account names, etc.

How Long Will It Take To Get a Dissolution decree?

It might take six weeks to 12 months in the case of a no-fault or uncontested dissolution of marriage and nine months to one year in the case of a faults or contested dissolution of marriage.

Various factors can influence the time taken to get the final order. Some of them are:

  • The nature of the dissolution — whether it is contested or uncontested and covenant or non-covenant.
  • The value of the assets that need to be distributed between the parties.
  • If the state has some legal separation or waiting period before and after the divorce.
  • If there is any prenuptial agreement in place.
  • The waiting period the judge legally takes to sign the legal decree.

Irrespective of the nature of dissolution, mutual cooperation, and readiness to clear all the legal requirements by both the parties can help in speeding up the process.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can marriage be dissolved without divorce?

No. Dissolution is a no-fault divorce. A marriage can only be dissolved by contested or mutual divorce. The dissolution petition is filed in court when both spouses agree on all the legal issues that need to be addressed.

2. Is a dissolution faster than a divorce?

Yes. The dissolution process is faster than a divorce because the couple agrees to divide their assets and raise their children. Moreover, it is more cost-effective than divorce.

Marriage is not always a bed of roses. While some go through trials and tribulations, it may be a lot to take for others. Both situations are okay as long as both the partners are happy and content. Dissolution of marriage is based upon mutual agreement and understanding, which involves a series of paperwork and procedures. Each US state may have different requirements and rules for the same. So do understand your state’s laws regarding the dissolution of marriage before proceeding, and do not hesitate to seek support from your loved ones during this time.

Key Pointers

  • Dissolution of marriage is the legal procedure to end a marriage with a mutual agreement.
  • The mutual agreement regarding the distribution of property, child custody, and alimony makes it different from a divorce.
  • You may or may not require a lawyer, and each state in the US has specific requirements for residency, property settlements, and child support.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Forms for dissolution and dissolution of registered domestic partnership; Oregon Judicial Branch
2. Custody Paternity and Child Support; Supreme court of Nevada
3. Divorce Forms; State Of Nevada self help center
4. Filing for Divorce in Nebraska – No Children and No Disputed Property; State Of Nebraska Judicial Branch
5. Establishing Paternity, Custody, Parenting Time, and Child Support; State Of Nebraska Judicial Branch
6. Child Custody, Parenting Plans, Visitations; Montana Judicial Branch
7. Child Support; Montana Judicial Branch
8. Divorce, Dissolution, Legal Separation, Annulment; Montana Judicial Branch
9. Minnesota’s Child Support Laws; Minnesota House Of Representatives
10. Child Support Guidelines; Hawaii State Judiciary
11. Divorce forms; Hawaii State Judiciary
12. Divorce, Family Matters, Civil Unions Subcategories; Colorado Judicial Branch
13. Forms & Instructions by Category; Colorado Judicial Branch
14. Custody and Placement: Answering Your Legal Questions; State Bar Of Wisconsin
15. Basic Guidelines for Divorce/ Legal Separation; Wisconsin Courts
16. Alimony or allowance for support and education of children as lien; default; powers of court; Michigan Legislature
17. Court Forms; Iowa Judicial Branch
18. Representing Yourself; Iowa Judicial Branch
19. Filing for Divorce or Separation; California Courts
20. Filing For Divorce Without An Attorney; State of Florida
21. Divorce; Kansas Judicial Council
22. Divorce Forms; Coalition for court access
23. Developmental Patterns in Marital Satisfaction: Another Look at Covenant Marriage; National Library of Medicine.
24. The U.S. Divorce Rate Has Hit a 50-Year Low; Institute for Family Studies.

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