What is the Difference Between Marriage Dissolution & Divorce?

Posted in Divorce on October 29, 2021


If you and your spouse are considering a divorce, you may hear two different terms used interchangeably: divorce and dissolution of marriage. On a legal level, there is an important distinction between these two processes in California. The difference may be even more pronounced under the laws of another state. Understanding what this difference is in California can allow you to recognize which type of case you have, as well as how an attorney can help.

What is Marriage Dissolution?

In California, the phrase, “marriage dissolution” generally refers to a divorce – not a legal separation or annulment. This is California’s preferred term for divorce. Previously, California used the word divorce to refer to all family law cases where a couple wished to terminate their marriage contracts. The state decided to change the wording, however, since “divorce” is traditionally used to describe a fault-based legal proceeding.

Since California is a no-fault jurisdiction, it opted to use the phrase, “dissolution of marriage” in lieu of divorce, in most cases. The no-fault law means that the spouse filing for a dissolution of marriage – the Petitioner – does not have to prove that the other spouse is to blame for the breakup. Instead, the Petitioner can simply cite that irreconcilable differences led to an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In a fault state, on the other hand, a Petitioner would need to prove he or she has an approved grounds for getting divorced, such as adultery or fraud.

Marriage Dissolution as a Settlement

In some states, as well as in some circumstances in California, marriage dissolution specifically refers to a couple that achieves a settlement or an uncontested divorce (a “summary dissolution”). These couples do not require intervention from a family court judge; instead, they are able to dissolve their marriages on their own by compromising on the terms of the split and submitting their settlement agreement to be signed by a judge. An attorney or judge may refer to your divorce as a marriage dissolution or summary dissolution to describe an uncontested divorce.

What is a Divorce?

Traditionally, a divorce is a request to dissolve a union or terminate the marriage contract based on the grounds that one party is at fault for ending the marriage. To obtain a divorce in a fault state, the filing party must bring the other to court to ask for a divorce based on legally acceptable grounds. Thus, a divorce often describes a trial before a judge, who will have jurisdiction to determine the outcome of the case.

Today, your case may be referred to as a divorce in California instead of a dissolution of marriage if you have a contested case. This means that you and your spouse cannot agree on all of the terms of your divorce and will need to put these decisions to a judge. In a contested divorce case, a judge will listen to both parties and create orders for property division, child support, child custody and alimony based on the applicable state laws and the specifics of the case. Both parties must obey the judge’s orders once the divorce is finalized.

When Should You Hire an Attorney?

Whether you have a dissolution of marriage or a divorce in Solana Beach, an attorney can help. An attorney can be integral for achieving a fair resolution for your case and avoiding an expensive and drawn-out legal battle. Hiring a lawyer can improve your ability to negotiate and communicate with your ex-spouse to reach a settlement that works for the whole family. If a settlement or summary dissolution isn’t possible, your attorney can represent your rights and interests during a divorce trial in California instead. Learn more about how a divorce attorney can help you today by calling Ratzer|Dobis at (858) 295-1104.