Written by attorney Loretta Marie Helfrich

Dissolution vs Divorce: What's the Difference?

The difference between a dissolution and divorce is in all in the filing with the court and the procedure that follows. To understand the differences, let's look at the similarities. Both a divorce and a dissolution you get a final court order that:

  • terminates the marriage
  • allocates all debts, assets
  • sets forth all support orders, child and spousal
  • provides the terms of the parenting arrangement

The difference is in the path to the end result.

Dissolution of a marriage

In a dissolution the parties have worked out all issues and reached an agreement on all terms (debts, assets, child support, spousal support, parenting, etc.) The agreements are set forth in a document called a Separation Agreement. If the parties have entered into a shared parenting plan, then that arrangement is set forth in a separate document called a Shared Parenting Plan. The Separation Agreement is filed with the court with the initial Petition for Dissolution and the Shared Parenting Plan is submitted for approval or filed based on your local courts procedure. One hearing is scheduled: the Merits hearing. In a dissolution, one can get to an agreement by direct negotiation, use of attorney's to negotiate, mediation, or the Collaborative Law Process.


In a Divorce, the parties have not been able to work out an agreement. Thus there are numerous property, income, and parenting forms and documents that need to be prepared. These documents are filed along with the initial Complaint for Divorce. An action for Divorce requires more court involvement through reports, scheduling conferences and hearings. Ultimately if the parties are not able to reach an agreement the court will issue orders on all matters.

Additional resources provided by the author

You should check with your local family court for the required forms and procedure. Most courts will have their local rules on line at their website. Many also have the forms and form lists by matters.

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