Terminology of a Divorce: Legal Terms Used in a Dissolution of Marriage
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Terminology of a Divorce: Explanation of the Legal Terms Used in a Dissolution of Marriage

The laws related to the dissolution of marriage are set at the state level. Therefore, while every state provides a mechanism for ending a marriage, the procedures and requirements can differ from state-to-state. Even the basic legal terminology used for dissolution of marriage isn’t the same across the country. A perfect example of this diversion in terminology is that some states formally refer to ending a marriage as divorce, while other state laws refer to it as dissolution of marriage.

Yet, many of the legal terms used in divorce proceedings, like divorce and dissolution of marriage, are common in meaning and definition throughout the United States, even if unfamiliar outside of their legal context. Understanding these terms can be important when going through divorce proceedings or considering an end to your marriage.

What Is “Fault” in Divorce Proceedings?

Most states traditionally required the spouse filing for divorce to prove the other was at fault. This meant one party was to blame for the divorce, and the innocent party then had to prove the blame. Under this process, state law specified a definite set of “grounds” or reasons that qualified as fault. Some of the reasons were adultery, insanity, cruelty, confinement or imprisonment, or physical incapacity.

Many states still allow for a spouse to file for a fault-based divorce, but it is no longer required. And there is further division between these states, as certain states consider fault for questions of division of property and custody, while others discount it as irrelevant to such equitable determinations.

Today, every state allows a couple to file for no-fault divorce. In the 34 states that give the option between fault and no-fault divorce, the option for a no-fault divorce is justified by irreconcilable differences. The other 17 states, including Oregon and Washington, are true no fault states. In these jurisdictions, it isn’t even an option to file for dissolution of marriage based on fault.

What Does It Mean to “Contest” a Divorce?

In Oregon and Washington there are two types of divorce, contested and uncontested. The difference isn’t related to the reasons leading to the end of a marriage, but rather agreement on how the divorce is settled. In an uncontested divorce the parties agree about the process for dissolution of marriage and all the terms of the settlement. This includes how all assets will be divided, the way any debt is distributed, determination of alimony payments, and of course, decisions regarding child support and custody.

In an uncontested dissolution of marriage, the parties don’t need the court to determine their divorce settlement. These situations are often determined through collaborative divorce proceedings or mediation. Although, a court must approve the terms of a divorce settlement decided by mediation or arbitration.

Contested dissolution of marriage refers to those situations when there is disagreement between the spouses. Even if it is only the dispute of one aspect or detail of the divorce, Oregon and Washington still refer to these divorces as contested. Not all contested divorces end in a courtroom, many are still resolved through alternative dispute resolution and settlement between the parties. In fact, estimates are only 5% of divorce cases conclude in a trial.

What Are “Decree of Dissolution” and “General Judgment of Dissolution”?

A divorce in Oregon or Washington is finalized with a court judgment. This judgment is written out and memorialized in a decree of dissolution, if in Washington, or a general judgment of dissolution, if in Oregon. While the terminology is different between these states, and can vary in other states as well, the contents of these documents is substantially the same.

If the divorce is settled outside of trial, then the divorce settlement will be attached to this final court document; otherwise, the decree or judgment will contain the court’s equitable determination of all aspect of a divorce, such as child custody, allocation of property, division of debt, and alimony. There can also be determination of other issues unique to the parties. Most importantly, a decree of dissolution or general judgment of dissolution is legally binding.

Learn More About Dissolution of Marriage

If you need other information regarding legal terminology or procedure in divorce proceedings, it is important to speak with an attorney. In Oregon and Washington, the family law lawyers at Gearing Rackner & McGrath can provide answers to a wide range of divorce and family law questions.

To schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys in Oregon or SW Washington, call us now at 503.468.6741 or write us.

Andrew Newsom

Andrew Newsom

Andy is a partner at Gearing Rackner & McGrath. He has practiced family law exclusively since 2010 and is licensed to practice in Oregon. Andrew has high-level experience in all areas of family law. Although he is stimulated by trial advocacy, his first priority is to provide his clients with creative and efficient solutions without unneeded expense.

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