Difference between Dissolution and Divorce

Updated on October 3, 2017

Ending a marriage is never a fun thing. What is more, it means doing it in a courthouse, in front of a judge and with lawyers present. But is there another way? Is the dissolution the easiest way to go about it? Or is it just another word for divorce? Here is where the knowledge that every state has the right to make its own family laws comes in handy. So you might not do the same thing in Ohio as well as in Alaska in regards to dissolution or divorce. But let’s look more into the difference between the two to help clear things up.


engagement ring

The process of dissolution of marriage is faster and simpler than divorce in some states. The term is basically a legal one. It is also less expensive, with a “no fault” clause being introduced in the justification of the separation. The reason everything is (at least it’s supposed to be) simpler is that the couple is expected to have come to a common agreement on what to do with the shared assets and with the children, if there are any. Before filing for a dissolution, everything must be decided on, including the payment of attorney fees. State officials are merely left with the task of acknowledging the separation and processing the documents.

But why did we mention an attorney when everything is supposed to be agreed upon during a marriage dissolution? Because sometimes people are emotionally overwhelmed and stressed and they might lose sight of some of the most important aspects. An attorney can help both parties make reasonable claims that the other can agree to, without having any decisions made to the detriment of the parties involved.

There is also the issue of not having much to divide between the individuals. In some states, when a couple has not been married for long (like 1-5 years) or do not have children or considerable assets or property, then their separation is considered a dissolution of marriage.

Divorce is the term that defines a dissolution of a marriage. The practice of separating from a spouse has existed since ancient times and so have the problems associated with the process. Although in the past it was only the very rich who had the luxury of leaving a spouse they no longer wanted to share a life with, today it’s anybody’s option.

Apart from the obvious emotional implications, the process of divorce is something that involves a lot of outside people. Since the family is the state’s smallest social cell, the dissolution of one comes with a lot of decisions, paperwork, and arguments. First, there is the legal issue of changing the partners’ status, then deciding on custody, alimony, visitation rights, whether the assets get divided in half between the spouses, and making an inventory of the divisible assets.

This is all done according to the divorce laws of every state and with the assistance of an attorney on each side. If the spouses cannot agree, it is up to a judge to make a decision. This usually happens when there are children involved and when the parents are fighting for full custody, or when huge estates are at stake.

Dissolution vs Divorce

So what is the difference between dissolution and divorce?

The answer to this question will vary according to the state in which the couple is trying to separate. Every state has different laws regarding divorce. In some places, there is no difference between dissolution and divorce, while in others “dissolution” is a legal term used for an amiable divorce. There are also those who use the term “dissolution” in the context of a civil union, mentioning that the traditional term of divorce can only be used in the context of a legally recognized marriage.

Otherwise, the difference between dissolution and divorce, in the states where such a thing is recognized, lies with the way in which the process takes place, with or without agreement between parties. Therefore, “divorce” is the general term used for a couple breaking up a marriage, while “dissolution” is more of a legal term used to define the way in which the proceedings go.

If the couple has everything decided upon and they only need the state to take note of their decision, then it is a dissolution. When the couple is still arguing about some of the things to split between them and a judge needs to make decisions for them, it is considered a divorce. Based on this argument alone, we can note that a dissolution is faster, cheaper, and less stressful, whereas a divorce costs more, lasts longer, and is more strenuous on all those involved. Plus, in the case of dissolution, talking to an attorney is recommended in order for each spouse to make sure they have made the right decision. On the other hand, when it comes to divorce, attorneys are compulsory.

There is also the issue of marriages that have lasted for a very short period of time, that no descendants have resulted from, or that have no considerable assets. This is considered a dissolution and is processed faster.

Comparison Chart

A legal termThe general concept of ending a marriage
Applies when the two parties are in agreementApplies when the two parties are not in agreement
The presence of an attorney is recommendedThe presence of an attorney is needed
The spouses decide on how to separate everything by themselvesThe spouses cannot decide on custody and shared asset division, therefore a state-appointed judge decides for them
Also applies to short, childless marriages without valuable assetsApplies to marriages with children and high assets to divide
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