Difference Between Divorce & Dissolution of Marriage

By Wayne Thomas

Most people try to avoid dealing with the legal system, and getting a divorce may be your first contact with the courts. The divorce process can be confusing because much of the legal terminology differs from ordinary, everyday words. With that in mind, courts often use the terms "divorce" and "marriage dissolution" for the same thing. Knowing which states make a point to distinguish the terms, however, can help avoid confusion.


A divorce is defined as "the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body." Divorce is the term we hear used most frequently in conversation. Certain state courts, however, may use the more technical term "dissolution of marriage" for the same action. Although these words are often used interchangeably, the technical term may be used in court or on forms.

Exception to the Rule

At least one state makes a distinction between divorce and dissolution of marriage, yet the result is still the same: ending of the marriage. In Ohio, the term divorce applies to situations in which one spouse alleges the other is at fault for the collapse of the marriage. The faster and generally less expensive process for terminating a marriage, when neither spouse contests the decision, is referred to as dissolution. In that case, the parties reach a settlement agreement prior to the filing of the petition, which must address issues related to property, any minor children and debts.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Terminology and Grounds

Differences from state to state over terminology can sometimes be explained by whether the state still allows fault grounds for divorce or whether the state is pure no-fault. States that allow fault grounds more frequently use the term divorce while no-fault states use the term dissolution of marriage more often. For example, in Oregon, a pure no fault-state, the term used in the state's laws is dissolution of marriage. By contrast, Alaska, a state still allowing traditional fault grounds, uses the term divorce in its laws.

No-Fault vs. Uncontested

An uncontested divorce and a no-fault divorce are not the same thing. Contesting a divorce simply means that one spouse challenges what the other spouse wrote in their divorce petition. A spouse can contest issues other than the reason for the divorce. For example, a spouse could dispute a proposed property distribution or child custody arrangement.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
What Is Action for Divorce?


Related articles

What Is a Unilateral Divorce?

Unilateral divorce describes a divorce in which one spouse terminates the marriage without the consent of the other spouse. Spouses can do this by filing for divorce on no-fault grounds, which allows couples to divorce regardless of whether the other spouse consents and without casting blame on the other spouse for the marriage coming to an end. Regardless of the state you live in, you may file for no-fault divorce.

Contested Divorce Procedures

The exact procedures of divorce vary between states, but divorce can be a fairly simple process if you have an uncontested divorce. For a divorce to be uncontested, you and your spouse must agree on the reason for the divorce and the terms of the settlement, such as property division, child custody and alimony. However, if you and your spouse contest, or dispute, the terms of your divorce -- or the reason for the divorce itself -- the process may be longer and more expensive.

What Does "Granted a Divorce" Mean?

Even in no-fault divorce states where dissolving a marriage is a matter of personal choice, a judge must supervise your divorce proceedings and sign off on your divorce agreement. A divorce is not granted until the court enters a final divorce decree.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Ohio No-Fault Divorce Requirements

Ohio couples can choose an uncontested divorce, called a dissolution, in which they agree to the divorce and on all ...

The Advantages of Annulment

Divorce is the most common way to end the marriage relationship. However, states also recognize an alternative ...

What Is a Divorce With Prejudice?

A divorce with prejudice, in a marriage that has been dissolved and custody and financial issues decided, means both ...

What Does it Mean to File for Irreconcilable Differences in a Divorce?

When filing for divorce, states generally require the divorcing couple name the grounds under which they are bringing ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED