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In most states, “dissolution of marriage” is just another way of saying “divorce,” and it refers to the process by which a couple can end their marriage permanently.

In a few states, however, a dissolution of marriage is not the same as a divorce, because it does not permanently terminate marital status or because it can only be used for certain cases, such as where a couple agrees to the dissolution and agrees on how everything will be resolved (for example, alimony and division of property). For puposes of this article, we’ll focus on the more common use of the term.

Couples can dissolve their marriages by choosing a “no-fault” or “fault” divorce. A “no-fault” divorce is one where spouses seek to end their marriage without assessing any blame or fault. In other words, the spouse that requests the divorce (the “filing” spouse) doesn’t need to accuse the other spouse of bad behavior, which led to the separation. Instead, the filing spouse can list a “no-fault” reason for the divorce, such as “irreconcilable differences,” which is just a fancy way of saying the couple can’t get along anymore, and there is no real chance that they will get back together. A no-fault divorce is easier and quicker to obtain than a “fault” divorce, but spouses may be required to live apart for a certain amount of time. The specific requirements for a no-fault divorce will depend on the laws of the state where the divorce action is filed.

In a “fault” divorce, the filing spouse’s request to end the marriage is based on a claim that the other spouse engaged in a specific type of misconduct, which led to the breakup. Grounds for a fault divorce vary from state to state, but some of the most common are adultery, physical or emotional abuse, abandonment, and drug or alcohol addiction.

Fault divorces are more contentious and stressful for all involved (including any children of the marriage), and they generally cost more in attorney’s fees because of all the time spent trying to prove allegations of bad behavior. Historically, this was a very common way to dissolve a marriage, but today, most states have either abandoned fault grounds or added no-fault options for divorce.