What is a dissolution of marriage?

Getting legally divorced is called dissolution of marriage. There are several steps to getting a dissolution.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

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Dissolution is the formal, legal ending of a marriage by a court, commonly called a divorce. A dissolution of marriage completely ends your legal relationship as spouses and ends your marriage.

Unlike an annulment, a dissolution does not “undo" the marriage as if it never existed. Instead, it is a legal close to the marriage. If you are seeking to end your marriage, you and your spouse need a dissolution of marriage. 

How do you get a dissolution of marriage?

To obtain a dissolution or marriage divorce, one spouse must file a divorce petition, also called a petition for dissolution of marriage. The dissolution of marriage form varies by state, and can be found on your state court website.

This form usually asks for basic information about you and your spouse (such as names, addresses, dates of birth, and date of marriage, as well as information about any minor children) and asks you to indicate the reason you are seeking a divorce (called the grounds for divorce—note that all states now have a no-fault grounds available).

The dissolution papers also ask if the petitioner (the person filing) is seeking custody, child support, spousal support, or property distribution.

The dissolution process

Once the petition is filed, it must also be legally served on the other spouse (in some states the order is reversed—you serve it, then file it).

The other spouse (upon whom the petition is served) will then have the opportunity to answer and state what he or she agrees or disagrees with in the dissolution papers. As the divorce process moves along, the petitioner may need to file a more detailed complaint, explaining exactly what they are asking for and why.

The spouses have to provide complete financial disclosures to each other and to the court, detailing all of their assets and debts. Most cases settle without a trial, either through negotiation or through mediation or collaborative law.

If the case does not settle, it will move forward to a trial, during which each side will present evidence and testimony about all of the issues being decided. If the case goes to trial, the entire process can take many months and possibly more than a year to reach the final resolution.

Do you need a lawyer?

It's generally recommended that you at least talk with an attorney about your divorce case, so you understand all of your rights and the specific procedures required in your state.

If you and your spouse are in agreement, it can be fairly simple to move ahead and handle the divorce yourselves or with assistance from an online service.

when is a marriage dissolved?

A marriage is officially dissolved when the court issues a final judgment and decree. This document contains the judge's decisions on all of the issues in the case. If the case settles, the terms of the settlement are included in the judgment.

Your marriage is officially dissolved the day the judge signs the divorce decree. A certificate of dissolution will be issued by the state, which is a legal document providing proof that your marriage has ended (similar to the way a marriage certificate shows you are married).

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.