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What’s the Difference Between Divorce, Dissolution and Legal Separation?


You have multiple options for ending your marriage in Colorado. Divorce is not your only avenue. The family courts in Colorado also offer other solutions, such as legal separation. Understanding the difference between divorce, dissolution and legal separation can help you choose the right option for you.

Divorce vs. Dissolution

Divorce and dissolution of marriage are often used interchangeably. They are similar, but not exactly the same, in meaning. Both terms describe the legal termination of a marriage. Both paths will lead to a judge signing a divorce decree and lawfully ending the marriage. Technically, however, these terms differ in meaning on a legal level.

Divorce refers to enlisting the court’s help to end your marriage. A dissolution of marriage, on the other hand, is an agreement between you and your spouse on how to resolve questions such as child custody and property division, without a judge intervening. Both a successful divorce and a dissolution of marriage will end in the same outcome: an order that ends the marriage and sets rules for the split. The difference lies in how a couple comes to this conclusion.

You may be able to dissolve your marriage instead of going to court by keeping an open mind during negotiations with your ex-spouse. You will both have to agree on every detail of the marriage dissolution, including parenting time, property and debt division, child support, and alimony. A mediation lawyer may be able to help you and your ex-spouse work together to agree on everything and dissolve the marriage.

A dissolution can provide better peace of mind for you and your family while ending your marriage. It could also save your family time and money on legal proceedings. You may need to file for divorce and bring your case to the courts, however, if you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on its terms. Filing for divorce means enlisting a judge’s assistance in setting orders for both parties to follow. Most couples start by attempting a dissolution of marriage. Then, if this does not work, the couple will file for divorce to terminate the marriage instead.

Legal Separation in Colorado

Divorce and dissolution both share the same outcome: termination of the marriage contract. Legal separation, however, does not end or terminate a marriage. Instead, it puts things on pause for an amount of time the couple decides. Legal separation in Colorado means that on paper, a couple is still married; however, the couple has divided their assets and are living separately.

Legal separation is a common in-between for couples who need to take action to resolve their issues but are not sure something as final as divorce is the right choice. At any point during a legal separation, the couple can decide to either reconcile and end the separation or move forward with a divorce/dissolution.

Legal separation might be the right choice if you want to separate from your spouse but remain legally married for some type of benefit. If you must remain married on paper to keep health benefits given to you by your spouse’s employer, for example, legal separation could be an effective solution. Other couples choose legal separation instead of divorce for religious reasons. If you think reconciliation is a possibility, legal separation could also be more suitable than divorce. If you get back together with your spouse, it is much easier to end a legal separation than to reverse a divorce decision or remarry.

It is important to assess all of your options for ending a marriage in Colorado. What is right for someone else might not be ideal for you. Discuss all of your options with a divorce attorney for tailored legal advice.

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