Dissolution of marriage: A step-by-step guide

Want to know if dissolution of marriage is the right option for you? We wrote you a step-by-step guide.

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What's Inside

Ending a marriage is not known to be easy. However, depending on where you live and your circumstances, you may have an option that’s typically quicker and less expensive than a divorce: dissolution of marriage. 

This guide will help you better understand what a dissolution of marriage is, its benefits compared to divorce, and how to dissolve a marriage.

What is a dissolution of marriage? 

In states that differentiate between a dissolution of marriage and a divorce, a dissolution (or summary dissolution) is typically a jointly filed, uncontested divorce involving spouses who agree on all the major terms of their divorce. 

Benefits of a dissolution of marriage vs. divorce

Choosing a dissolution rather than a divorce may mean:

  • More control over how you and your spouse will share assets and liabilities
  • More control over how you and your spouse will share parental responsibilities
  • Less litigation and time in court or negotiations (which often means significantly smaller legal fees)

However, you may also have to waive several rights and options in a dissolution that you wouldn’t have to waive in a standard divorce.

How do I dissolve my marriage?

There are several steps to dissolve a marriage, and each state’s options and procedures are different. Below is a general outline. Speak with the court clerk in your area to learn how to properly file your case. 

1. Reach an agreement with your spouse

To successfully file and maintain a dissolution case, you and your spouse need to agree on several matters, including:

  • Each spouse’s right to spousal support
  • How to divide your marital property
  • Each spouse’s child support obligations and rights
  • How to handle your marital debts
  • Each spouse’s rights and responsibilities regarding child custody

Some parties use mediation at this stage. They employ a neutral third party to help them talk through these issues and resolve disputes so they can seek a dissolution of marriage.

If you can’t agree on all of the above matters, you may have to file for a traditional divorce. 

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2. Determine where to file your case

Even if your state has a dissolution process, you can only file for dissolution in the state that has jurisdiction over your case. This usually means you have to prove that you or your spouse has lived in the county for several months and in the state for even longer. 

For example, filers in California have to live in the county where they plan to file for at least three months and in the state for at least six months before they may proceed with a dissolution case. And in Ohio, spouses seeking a dissolution of marriage must prove they’ve lived in the state for at least six months. 

3. Check the requirements for the dissolution process

Some states have strict eligibility requirements for filing for dissolution of marriage. These may include: 

  • Waiving the right to seek spousal support
  • Having no shared minor children and neither spouse being pregnant
  • Restrictions on the amount of property a filer may own
  • Limits on the length of a filer’s marriage
  • Giving up your right to a trial or appeal in your case

As you can see, simplified dissolution of marriage with a child isn’t possible in every state. And if your state allows you to file for a dissolution that involves minor children, you and your spouse may have to complete a parenting class before you end your marriage.

4. Complete the paperwork to initiate your case

Some states require spouses to complete financial paperwork—disclosing their income, expenses, assets and debts, among other things—before filing for a dissolution of marriage. In addition to submitting these forms to the court, spouses may need to exchange this financial information with each other.

In other states, you just submit a petition for dissolution of marriage to the court to start your case. Spouses jointly file this form, which may ask for some or all of the following:

  • Both spouses’ identification and contact information
  • Information regarding any attorney representation for either spouse 
  • Health insurance and healthcare information
  • Information regarding any history of domestic violence
  • Financial and tax information
  • Information regarding any minor children the spouses share
  • The date of marriage
  • Statements certifying that you’re eligible to file for dissolution

Filing often costs several hundred dollars. For example, in California, the fee may be more than $400, while other jurisdictions such as Alaska may charge less than $300. However, the court might grant you the right to file without paying a fee if your income is below a certain threshold.

5. Draft property, support and custody agreements

When you file for dissolution of marriage, you and your spouse need to work out how you’ll divide assets, debts and parental responsibilities. Terms to consider when creating your agreement may include:

  • What shares of the marital and separate property each spouse will receive
  • Whether you and your spouse will sell any property and how you’ll split the proceeds
  • How you and your spouse will share retirement benefits
  • What shares of marital and separate debts each spouse will pay
  • How much spousal support one spouse will pay to another
  • Which spouse will have physical custody of each minor child
  • Which spouse will have legal custody of each minor child
  • What child visitation rights each spouse (and any other party) will have
  • How much child support one spouse will pay to the other
  • Which spouse will pay for each child’s health insurance and healthcare needs
  • How you and your spouse will claim your children on income taxes
  • Whether either spouse will restore their name to their pre-marriage name
  • Any other relevant matters

6. File your agreement and attend a hearing

Once you have an agreement on all the terms, you put this in writing, sign the agreement, and submit it to the court. 

Some jurisdictions then require spouses to attend a final hearing. At the hearing, the judge typically checks whether you provided all required paperwork and adequately addressed all necessary issues. If you have, the judge may grant the dissolution. 

If your jurisdiction doesn’t require you to attend a hearing, you may have to wait for the court to hand down its final judgment. Finalizing a dissolution of marriage could take between about 30 days and six months. Depending on where you live and the circumstances of your case, you might receive a signed judgment dissolving your marriage when you make a court appearance or attend a hearing with your spouse, or you might receive the judgment in the mail. 

How an attorney may help

Even when participating in a simplified divorce process, some spouses find attorney assistance helpful. An attorney may advise on what terms to cover in your property and child custody agreements and help you gather crucial financial information to fulfill disclosure requirements. An attorney may also educate you on the dissolution process to help ease your concerns.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between dissolution of marriage and divorce?

In a dissolution of marriage, spouses must agree on all the terms of their split and may have to waive rights to spousal support or appeal. A couple who petitions for divorce typically doesn’t have to waive rights or agree on anything and may let the court establish the terms of their decree. And since dissolution petitions in many states must be jointly filed, one spouse doesn’t have to have the other served with the petition, as they would in a standard divorce case.

How long does a dissolution of marriage take?

Depending on where you live, a dissolution could take as few as 30 days or as long as six months. 

What is the fastest way to get a dissolution of marriage?

The fastest way to get a dissolution of marriage depends on the specific facts of your case and where you file for dissolution.

What is a simplified dissolution of marriage?

Depending on the state, a simplified dissolution of marriage may mean a jointly filed divorce between spouses who meet certain qualifications and agree on all the terms of their divorce.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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