Dissolution of Marriage vs. Divorce: What’s the Difference?
Divorce and dissolution of marriage are so similar that many people don’t even know the difference—and that’s okay. Helpfully, anyone seeking to split from their spouse can meet with an Aiken, SC divorce lawyer to discuss what to file.
Generally, our clients can seek a no-fault divorce or allege a fault ground. The choice matters as you will have different obligations when filing your paperwork in court. Please contact Surasky Law Firm today if you have questions about how to end your marriage. We can walk you through your options and then identify concrete steps to take next.
What’s Dissolution of Marriage?
Some states call a no-fault divorce “dissolution of marriage.” Like divorce, you can end your marriage using the dissolution procedure. You will also need to determine certain key issues, like alimony, child custody, child support, and the division of your marital estate.
In South Carolina, the only way to seek a no-fault divorce is to live separately and apart from your spouse for one continuous year. You can’t move back in together after six months. If you do, then the clock must start over.
Living separate and apart is pretty much what it sounds like. You can’t live in the same house, so one spouse must move in with other family or friends or rent/buy a place. This is a hard requirement for couples whose finances are tight.
What Are the Grounds for Divorce?
South Carolina also provides four grounds for divorce:
· Habitual drunkenness/drug abuse
· Physical cruelty
If you allege one of these grounds, you need to come forward with evidence to prove it. A judge won’t grant a divorce without being convinced that the ground exists. For this reason, many couples simply pursue a no-fault option by living apart from each other for a year.
One advantage of a fault divorce is that you can request a final hearing within 90 days of filing for divorce. You do not have a long waiting period as you do with a no-fault divorce.
Contested versus Uncontested Divorce
Dissolution and divorce can be either contested or uncontested. This term—"contested divorce”—refers to whether you and your spouse agree on the following:
· The grounds for the divorce
· Child custody
· Child support
· Division of the marital estate (assets and debts)
If you do, then you have an uncontested divorce. If you disagree on even one item, then your divorce is contested.
Contested divorces can take a very long time to complete. A judge might appoint a guardian ad litem to represent your children’s interests, and you might have to undergo a home study and other evaluations. Financial disputes can take a long time if you suspect your spouse hides money or accounts. In our experience, contested divorces usually last over a year.
Some people erroneously assume that no-fault divorce is always uncontested. That’s wrong. Couples can still disagree on many issues. In fact, they might disagree on whether they have lived separately and apart for a year.
Should You Seek a Fault or No-Fault Divorce?
There is no simple answer that applies to everybody. There are certain advantages and disadvantages to each. You should meet with an attorney to discuss your particular case and review your options.
Let’s look at advantages of no-fault divorce:
You and your spouse live apart for a year. This can be a trial run to see if you really want to divorce. While living apart, you can get judicial orders for child custody, support, and other issues. You can see what works and what doesn’t work. When it comes time to file in court, you can tweak your child custody schedule, for example, to better work for you. You might also decide to reconcile and stay married.
Another advantage is that you avoid the embarrassment of having to prove fault. No one wants to be called an adulterer, drunkard, or abuser in court. Remember, divorce is a public process, and no one wins when a couple airs dirty laundry.
No-fault divorce also has some disadvantages.
For example, you must wait a long time. A judge won’t finalize the divorce until a year has passed, during which you have lived separately. You might want to start dating again or just move on with your life.
Are There Any Advantages to Alleging Fault?
Yes. One big one is proving adultery. Under South Carolina law, a spouse who commits adultery cannot receive alimony. They might also suffer some other consequences, such as receiving less marital property. When adultery leads to the breakup of a marriage, the adulterous spouse can end up worse off at the end of the divorce.
For this reason, you might consider alleging adultery if you have solid evidence, such as your spouse conceived a child with their lover or they admitted to committing adultery.
You might also allege desertion, drunkenness, or violence if you have very strong proof. This evidence could tip the scales in a contested custody fight.
What is the Process of Seeking a No-Fault Divorce?
Most of our clients begin by seeking an Order of Separation from a judge. This order will include details regarding child custody, support, alimony, and other issues. It’s a lot like the orders you find in a final divorce decree, but it’s only valid until you ultimately divorce.
Those considering separation should talk with an attorney. You might want to take certain steps first, such as setting up a bank account in only your name or closing joint credit card accounts. You might also freeze your credit profile. These steps can protect your credit and finances. The last thing you want is for your spouse to “strike back” by running up debt on your card or emptying a joint bank account.
Contact Surasky Law for Assistance
Seeking divorce is a big step for many people. Our law firm has helped men and women finally break free of their marriages and set themselves up well for their lives ahead. To find out more, contact our law firm to schedule a consultation with our Aiken family law attorney.