Dissolution of Marriage: Everything You Need to Know


A dissolution of marriage is a legal separation. It allows the court to make orders regarding property division, spousal support (alimony), and parental rights and responsibilities allocation. Two states, Ohio and Alaska, use the term “dissolution” instead of divorce for what is generally called an uncontested divorce. The rest of the country uses the word divorce.

Termination of the Marriage

Unlike a legal separation, dissolution of marriage legally ends the marriage. Both parties must reach a final agreement addressing all the important issues related to their divorce or dissolution, including division of assets and debts, spousal support (alimony), parental rights and responsibilities allocation, and child custody and visitation. The form to file varies by state but typically includes the following:

  • Your name and address.
  • The name and address of your spouse.
  • The dates you married and separated.
  • The reason(s) for seeking a divorce (now all states have no-fault grounds available).

Your divorce lawyer can help you identify which grounds might be the best fit based on your unique situation. Then, you must serve your spouse with the Petition and Summons. If your spouse has yet to file a Response within 30 days, you can request the Judge enter a judgment by default. If your spouse is in the military, you must submit an Affidavit of Military Service to prove that fact to the court.

Child Custody and Visitation

If you have children, the court will determine the terms of custody and visitation. Judges typically require parents to submit a proposed parenting plan and other evidence about their circumstances before deciding. Sometimes, the Judge may order a professional investigation (like a child custody evaluation) to help them determine the best for the children. Both spouses are entitled to potential visitation with their children. Suppose you need to change a custody or visitation order. In that case, you must file a petition to change the original one and prove that there was a substantial change in circumstance and that the difference is in your children’s best interests. The final judgment that ends your marriage is called a divorce decree or a dissolution of marriage judgment. It will contain the Judge’s decisions about your case’s important issues, including division of property and debts, alimony (spousal support), and child custody and visitation. If you and your spouse settle these matters, the court will also issue a settlement agreement.

Property Division

A divorce ends a marriage and allows the court to make orders concerning child custody, visitation, spousal support (alimony), property division, debts, former name restoration and other issues. There are two types of divorce, a legal separation and an absolute divorce. Only a final divorce dissolves a marriage and legally permits either spouse to remarry. In most cases, a court will weigh each spouse’s financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage when deciding on an equitable property allocation. However, some assets may be difficult to divide in kind, and in those cases, the Judge may choose to make a distributive award which is a monetary payment from one spouse to the other. To get a final judgment of dissolution, you must file a petition, serve your spouse with the proper paperwork and obtain financial information, complete a parenting class if applicable, and either reach a settlement or proceed to trial. In some states, couples who agree on the no-fault grounds for divorce can skip many of the procedural steps required in a regular divorce.


After a judge signs the divorce decree, either spouse can remarry. Typically, the final order will specify details regarding child custody and parenting time, support (including spousal support) and property division. If the parties negotiated an agreement or settled their case through mediation, the judgment would include this. Otherwise, the Judge will draft the final order after hearing your case. The reasons for divorce vary widely, but some issues frequently surface. Often, these include incompatibility, lack of communication, unrealistic expectations, differing life goals and sex problems. Signs of domestic violence may also appear in a marriage, including financial abuse, emotional abuse, harassment and other forms of intimidation and manipulation. Lack of pre-marriage preparation, assuming everything will be easier once you’re married, and feeling isolated or lonely are other common reasons for divorce. In addition, religious differences or a desire for separation can contribute to the dissolution of a marriage. Many people find attending marital counseling or family therapy helpful before filing for divorce.

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