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

A dissolution of marriage is the legal process through which a marriage is terminated, generally referring to a “no-fault” divorce. In New Jersey, divorce is sometimes referred to as “dissolution.” 

Therefore, there is no difference between divorce and dissolution in New Jersey. Both terms refer to the legal end of a marriage. 

Unlike other states, New Jersey does not have a law that provides for legal separation. However, the parties might seek a divorce from Bed and Board. Understanding the differences in divorce, dissolution, and legal separation can help you understand your options for leaving your spouse. 

Divorce and Dissolution in New Jersey 

New Jersey has several grounds for divorce or dissolution. The grounds for divorce are:

  • Irreconcilable differences (no-fault divorce)
  • Adultery
  • Continued and willful desertion for 12 or more months
  • Extreme cruelty
  • Living separate and apart for 18 or more months
  • Voluntary addiction to a narcotic drug or habitual drunkenness
  • Being institutionalization for mental illness for 24 or more consecutive months
  • Imprisonment for 18 or more consecutive months
  • Deviant sexual conduct

In addition to citing a ground for divorce, one or both spouses must be a New Jersey resident for at least one year before filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. Many people file on the grounds of irreconcilable differences because they do not need to prove “fault” to obtain a divorce. However, they must swear under oath that differences have existed for at least six months and there is no way to reconcile with their spouse.

In an uncontested divorce, the parties agree on the divorce terms. They file a divorce settlement with the court for approval. A divorce settlement determines:

The court generally approves the divorce settlement agreement if it is fair. Furthermore, the court can change the terms regarding custody and child support if the judge determines the terms are not in the children’s best interests. 

The case proceeds to trial if the parties cannot agree on the divorce terms. A judge decides the terms of the divorce based on the evidence presented during the trial. The parties can choose to settle one or all matters before the court at any time before the final hearing. 

Some states have laws providing a legal separation for couples not ready to file for divorce. The legal separation settles all matters that would be decided during a divorce case. However, married couples cannot get a legal separation in New Jersey. 

However, a spouse can petition the court for a Divorce from Bed and Board. Another name for a Divorce from Bed and Board is Limited Divorce. 

A Divorce from Bed and Board settles all the issues that a divorce would settle. However, the parties remain legally married. Therefore, they cannot remarry until one of the spouses obtains a divorce or dissolution.

Furthermore, both spouses must agree to the Divorce from Bed and Board. Otherwise, the other option is for one spouse to petition the court for a dissolution of marriage. 

Enter Into a Separation Agreement in New Jersey

The law does not recognize a legal separation, but couples can enter a separation agreement in New Jersey. A separation agreement is similar to obtaining an order for Divorce from Bed and Board. However, you do not need the court involved to enter into a separation agreement.

When prepared and executed correctly, a separation agreement is a legally binding contract. However, the parties remain married even though they are legally separated. 

A separation agreement can address the same issues as a divorce or Divorce from Bed and Board. If you and your spouse cannot agree on the terms for a dissolution or legal separation, a Monmouth County divorce lawyer can help you negotiate amicable terms. Sometimes, couples use a mediator to help them resolve their differences. 

Knowing what legal option is best for your situation when ending a marriage in New Jersey can be difficult. The divorce process can be complicated. If you are not ready to dissolve the marriage, you still need to take steps to protect your rights and best interests. 

An experienced Monmouth County divorce attorney can help you explore the options for leaving your spouse. In addition, an attorney can help you retain experts when necessary, including mediators, counselors, financial planners, and custody evaluators. 

Regardless of the circumstances of your divorce, dissolution, or legal separation, working with an experienced divorce lawyer increases your chances of receiving the outcome you desire. 


To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm in Red Bank. NJ at (732) 747-1882 or contact us online today.
You can also visit our law firm at 157 Broad St #111, Red Bank, NJ 07701.

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