Ending a marriage is never easy. No matter what the reason or the circumstances behind it, most people find the end of a marriage to be a painful and difficult experience.
Plus, not only do you have to deal with all the difficult emotions, you also have to figure out how, exactly, to end your marriage in legal terms.
When it comes to ending a marriage, you have several options, including dissolution of marriage and a standard divorce.
If you are feeling confused about these options, don’t worry. We’ll explain the differences for you in an effort to help you choose the best option for your situation.
Understanding Dissolution of Marriage
First things first, you may be wondering what “dissolution of marriage” means. Many people feel that this term sounds much better than “divorce” and, thus, gravitate toward it.
However, despite the “better” sounding name, in most cases, dissolution of marriage is really just a term for a specific type of divorce.
One reason, aside from the nicer name, that people choose dissolution of marriage as opposed to divorce is because it can often help them to avoid a lot of the cost and hassle associated with a standard divorce. That is because no one is deemed “at fault” in this type of proceeding, which is why you will often hear a dissolution of marriage referred to as a “no-fault divorce.”
When to Seek a Dissolution of Marriage
Unfortunately, a dissolution of marriage, while convenient, will not work for most people.
If you have serious issues that you and your soon to be ex-spouse cannot come to an agreement upon, such as matters of who should get what or matters of custody, dissolution will probably not be for you.
If, though, you and your ex are one of those rare couples that can actually come to a reasonable agreement on all serious matters, you would actually be a great candidate for a dissolution of marriage as opposed to a traditional divorce.
You will find that, when this option works, it is great at eliminating a lot of the stress and pain that often go along with a divorce.
How to Seek a Dissolution of Marriage
If you have ultimately decided that a dissolution of marriage is the right choice for you, then the first step is to file a dissolution petition. This petition should make clear that you and your ex have come to an agreement on all important issues, such as who will be the main custodial parent, visitation rights, spousal support, child support, property division, and anything else pertinent to your specific situation. If anything is left unresolved, then you are not ready to file a petition. And, if you can’t resolve something, divorce will be the better option as opposed to dissolution.
The key thing to keep in mind about opting for a dissolution is that you and your ex must work together to come to all agreements. Attorneys are only involved as far as drawing up paperwork, evaluating property, and making other legal, impartial decisions. If that won’t work for you, then you will need to go the divorce route.
If you and your ex are able to come to a mutual agreement on all matters related to your divorce, then you file the petition as mentioned with the court. A hearing will take place within one to three months. At that hearing, you and your ex must both appear and agree to everything within the agreement. The court has the option to approve the agreement, which it generally will if it feels that both parties are being honest and forthcoming.
As long as all goes according to plan, then the marriage will be terminated, the same way it would be with a divorce. However, as you can see, you avoid a lot of the hassle and legal fees, which is nice for everyone involved.
While dissolution is a great option when both parties can agree on all important matters, it doesn’t happen often. After all, couples typically get divorced because of serious agreement issues.
However, there is no shame in divorce. Thus, you shouldn’t try to force yourself into a dissolution of marriage if it won’t work for you, especially if it means giving up or giving in on issues or rights that are important to you.
Thus, if you do ultimately decide that divorce is for you, you will want to start by having either you or your spouse file a petition for divorce. In some states, this petition may also be referred to as an “application” or a “complaint.”
Sometimes, filing for divorce first can give you the “upper hand” in the court proceedings. Thus, unless you really do not want the divorce, you should try to be the first to file. This can be especially helpful in cases of abuse, infidelity, or where the other spouse has committed some grave wrong.
However, in some instances, such as when your ex may try to blame you for the divorce, filing first can actually work against you. Thus, it is always good to seek a lawyer’s assistance before you even think about filing for a divorce. That way, you can ensure that you proceed appropriately.
Regardless of who files first, the filer will be considered the “plaintiff,” and this person will get to ask, in the petition for divorce, for what he or she wants in terms of ownership of property, spousal support, child custody, child support, and other important matters.
The other person, who is referred to as the “defendant,” must then either agree to the complaint or file their own claim, in which the person can agree to some of the summonses, disagree to some of them, or make entirely new demands.
Uncontested Divorce Vs. Contested Divorce
What happens during this process, as discussed above, will determine if your divorce is a “contested divorce” or an “uncontested divorce.”
If the divorce is “contested,” it means that you and your ex cannot come to an agreement about the terms of the divorce. Thus, you will both, ideally with the help of a skilled divorce lawyer, bring your cases before a judge, who will ultimately decide the outcome.
If the divorce is “uncontested,” it means that the two of you eventually come to some kind of agreement about dividing assets, child custody and visitation, and/or spousal and/or child support.
Uncontested divorces are much easier and much more stress-free than contested divorces. However, most people will not have a fully uncontested divorce. With that in mind, though, anything that you and your ex CAN agree on will help to speed up the process and reduce the hassle involved.
How to Choose the Right Attorney
If you do ultimately decide that divorce, as opposed to the dissolution of marriage, is the only viable option for you and your ex, then you will definitely need a qualified divorce attorney.
Going into a divorce proceeding without an attorney, especially if your ex has one, leaves you vulnerable and makes it a whole lot less likely that you will get the outcome you want and/or deserve.
So, how can you choose a good attorney?
Well, first, once you are clear on what kind of divorce you will be seeking and other details, do your research. Look for someone in your area who you can afford but also who, ideally, has a lot of experience with divorce cases or even specializes in them.
Look into this professional’s history. Does he or she have a long record of winning divorce cases under the belt? If not, you may want to look elsewhere. You need someone who has handled these types of cases before and who has managed to regularly please his or her clients in the process.
As you go through the research and selection process, be sure to actually meet with prospective lawyers in person. So many people these days just choose their divorce lawyers off of a few emails. However, you need someone who treats you with respect and courtesy during this difficult time, who explains things in a way you understand, and who is easy to talk to.
You deserve the very best representation when going through a divorce, so be sure you are taking steps to ensure that you get that and nothing less.
Don’t Forget to Look After Yourself
Whether you ultimately choose a dissolution of marriage or a divorce, remember, above all else, to be kind to yourself. You are going through something difficult, so, in addition to finding the right representation and making the right choices, consider counseling and help to get you through this tough time.