Marriage dissolution is the legal term referring to divorce, in which a marriage is legally ended. Laws governing marriage dissolution differ greatly between different countries and even from state to state in the United States. In some jurisdictions, the legal proceeding for marriage dissolution is relatively simple. In other places, more complicated procedures must be followed, often leading to greater court costs and attorney fees.
A number of legal issues often surround marriage dissolution. These can include child custody and child support if the couple has children. Spousal support often is an issue as well, especially if one party in the marriage provided all or the majority of the couple's income. Property division must also be determined, either through legal proceedings or between the parties in question, to determine who will retain ownership of property, particularly that which was acquired during the marriage. In most cases, existing debt also must be divided, with the final divorce decree including agreements on which party should be responsible for which outstanding debts.
Depending on the laws of the state in question, specific reasons for the marriage dissolution might be required. In states that allow a no-fault divorce, a couple can end a bad marriage without having to divulge any specific reasons. Other states allow the use of the legal term "irreconcilable differences" to indicate a nonspecific reason for the divorce. When a determination of fault is required, the party who receives the blame for the divorce because of intolerable behavior might be awarded a smaller financial settlement or limited custody of any children, depending on the behavior and how the court interprets that behavior.
Many couples use mediation to determine many of the conditions of marriage dissolution, thereby avoiding or minimizing the involvement of attorneys and their associated costs. Even when couples use a mediator or make the majority of the decisions on their own, a legal divorce decree still must be obtained to end the marriage. Marriage, like divorce, is a legal proceeding, and legal measures are always necessary to terminate a marriage. In general, marriage dissolution can be less stressful to the divorcing couple and their family if mediation is used through the course of the proceedings. Although it is not always the case, using attorneys exclusively can lead to a more adversarial approach that can increase the emotional stress of the marriage dissolution process.