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What Is the Difference Between a Divorce & a Dissolution?

By Jenni Wiltz ; Updated June 13, 2017

Every state writes its own family laws. It’s in your best interest to speak with a local attorney before filing for divorce or dissolution to be sure you meet your state’s requirements for ending your marriage. Unlike divorce, dissolution carries strict requirements—although it’s almost always the faster option.


In both a divorce and a dissolution, a circuit court or family court judge ends your marriage with a judicial decree. According to the California Court System, a dissolution, also called a summary divorce, means you and your spouse agree on how to divide assets, and your wish to end the marriage is mutual. In a traditional divorce, you and your spouse do not agree on how to divide your assets nor how to arrange child custody, child support and/or visitation rights. In divorce cases, the wish to end the marriage may not be mutual.

Path to Dissolution

You and your spouse must file a joint petition for dissolution with your local circuit court clerk. Most courts want you to attach a plan for dividing any marital assets to prove you agree on how it will be done. Some states have a mandatory waiting period before the dissolution becomes final; California, for example, requires six months and another petition to make it final. When you’ve met your state’s requirements, a judge will review your petition and asset plan to be sure everything is correct and fair before formally ending your marriage.

Path to Divorce

To get a divorce, you must file a petition for divorce with the local circuit court clerk. According to the Oregon Bar Association, you are then responsible for giving your spouse a copy of the divorce papers. Your lawyer or the sheriff can do this if you don’t want to do it yourself. Either of you may ask for a temporary hearing to set interim rules for child custody and spousal support. After the temporary hearing, your case will go before a family court judge who provides a final ruling on child custody, spousal support, division of marital assets and visitation rights.

Key Requirements

Dissolutions have strict requirements set by each state. In some states, such as California, you are not allowed to petition for dissolution or summary divorce if you have young children or own property together. In others, such as Minnesota, neither party can claim allegations of domestic abuse. In general, requirements for a dissolution include a short marriage, no children, no real estate and a low debt load.


If you meet the other criteria for a dissolution, consider talking to your spouse to see if you can agree on how to divide your assets. According to the Alaska Courts, dissolutions move much faster than divorces because there are fewer motions and hearings; in some cases, you’ll receive your dissolution in just a month or two. In some states, including California, you don’t even have to appear in court to receive a dissolution.

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