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FAQs About Marital Dissolution

What is a Marriage Dissolution?

A marital dissolution, or divorce, is the legal process through which a marriage is dissolved, custody and visitation of children are awarded, child support and maintenance are determined, and marital property is divided.

How Do You Begin a Dissolution?

A dissolution begins with a summons and petition.The spouse initiating the legal proceeding serves, or delivers, a summons and petition on the other spouse.The summons is notification that a dissolution has begun.The summons and petition are then answered by the spouse receiving them.The summons also prohibits harassment, changes to insurance coverage, and disposal of marital property.

What Happens Next?

What happens next will depend on each person’s situation.Factors affecting how to continue include: children, amount of property, length of the marriage, wishes of the parties, and the needs and abilities of each party. Some of the events that take place in a typical dissolution proceeding include the following:

Temporary Relief

After the petition and answer, a party may request temporary relief from the court. For example, one spouse may ask for temporary financial support from the other spouse, or, the parties may wish to have child custody temporarily decided. If temporary relief is requested, the court will set a Temporary Hearing. Decisions made at the Temporary Hearing remain in effect until the dissolution is complete.

Ex Parte Relief

If there is a problem that must be taken care of before the Temporary Hearing, a party can request Ex Parte Relief. “Ex Parte” refers to relief quickly granted to one party without allowing the other party to respond. For example, if one party is abusing or harassing the other, a Temporary Restraining Order may be issued to prohibit abuse during the time prior to the Temporary Hearing.

Scheduling Hearing

The Scheduling Hearing establishes a time line for the dissolution.

Settlement Efforts (Negotiation)

The parties’ attorneys should be negotiating for a settlement throughout the dissolution process. Most dissolutions end in a settlement rather than a trial.


Discovery refers to the process attorneys use to “discover” all the information necessary for a complete and fair dissolution. Discovery techniques include serving the opposing side with formal written questions called interrogatories or requiring that the opposing party attend a deposition.


If settlement is not reached, there is a conference or hearing before the judge. At this hearing, possibilities for settlement are explored and preparation for the trial begins. Although this hearing is normally held in the courtroom, some judges prefer to hold this hearing in their office, or “chambers.”

Stipulated Judgment and Decree

If at any time the parties agree on all the pending issues, an agreement will be drafted, signed by the parties, and submitted to the court. This agreement is called a Stipulated Judgment and Decree. Most marriages end with an agreement; very few ever go to trial.


Assuming the parties are unable to reach agreement, the final step in a dissolution is the trial. Dissolutions are not heard before a jury; they are heard by a judge. Thus, they are referred to as court trials. The judge will decide any matter on which the parties cannot agree.

Judgment and Decree

The Judgment and Decree (“J&D”) is the final court order which is signed by the Judge and grants the dissolution. If the parties have entered into an agreement to settle their proceeding, their attorneys will draft a Stipulated J&D so that it implements the terms of their agreement. The court then approves the agreement by signing the J&D. If the court issues a ruling from the bench after a court trial, the court may request that one of the parties’ attorneys draft the J&D for the judge.

Consult legal counsel to determine the applicability of the information in this website to your circumstances. The information contained in this website is not intended to provide legal advice to you and you should not rely on this information other than to obtain a general understanding of the concepts and terms discussed.