Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima
Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima


The professional team at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima
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  4.  | The Difference Between Divorce, Dissolution, and Collaborative Law

The Difference Between Divorce, Dissolution, and Collaborative Law

Our divorce and collaborative law attorneys are commonly asked what the difference is between a divorce and dissolution. They are also frequently asked about collaborative law.

Ohio statutes provide two processes for terminating a marriage, divorce and dissolution. When taken to conclusion, both end in a fully enforceable court order. 


A divorce is a lawsuit commenced with the filing of a complaint by one spouse against the other; the case progresses within the court system. A divorce can be an adversarial process. The court is closely involved throughout the process, which is governed by applicable rules and statutes.


A dissolution is simply an agreed divorce; one in which nothing is filed with a court until husband and wife have come to full agreement on all matters. The court’s function is simply to accept the agreement after a finding that the parties made full disclosure to each other of all assets and debts. In a dissolution the court will ensure both parties understand the terms of their agreement and want their marriage to terminate. The court, on the face of the documents presented, must find the financial piece of the dissolution to be fair and equitable to both parties and the parenting piece of the dissolution to be in the best interests of the children. The court may not make changes to the agreement but must accept it as submitted or reject it entirely.

Couples may reach agreement in any number of ways, including by coming to terms themselves (a “kitchen table agreement”), by old-fashioned negotiations, by hiring a mediator to facilitate an agreement or by the process of collaborative law. Agreements reached in any manner are made “official” by the filing of a Dissolution. This culminates in making the agreement a court order.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law represents and requires a paradigm shift. In a divorce case, the model of using a lawsuit, by its very definition, is adversarial in nature. In collaborative law, the end a marriage is replaced by a problem-solving approach that recognizes the uniqueness of each family as well as the goals and interests of both parties. Collaborative law is the process that allows parties to work toward an agreement in an interest-based environment, which allows them, rather than the courts, to be in control of the outcome. Both husband and wife must have counsel; often a team is assembled which includes a therapist, known in the process as a family relations specialist, and a financial specialist, both of whom are neutral professionals; in other words, they are not aligned with either party. They become part of the team and assist the parties and the lawyers in the process. The family relations specialist not only helps protect the process and keep it on track and moving efficiently toward resolution. He or she also serves an important role in helping couples who have children develop a plan that truly best serves those children. This team member, an expert in developmental stages of children, affords the couple a safe place to help develop parenting options.

The collaborative model allows an alternative to litigation and its attendant costs, both financial and emotional. It is a structured process codified by Ohio law. Very specific protocols are followed in order to help ensure success of the process. Success means that full resolution is achieved by working together as team in an attempt to fulfill as many goals and interests of both parties as possible and to allow the parties to move forward after termination of the marriage with dignity. At its center is the belief that divorcing parties should be able to end their marriage by addressing issues important to them rather than be subject to the rulings of a judge or magistrate who, however skilled and attentive, is constrained by applicable evidentiary and substantive laws and rules. The collaborative process allows for creativity in reaching resolution. It does not simply disregard the law; it works within the framework of the laws governing termination of marriage while allowing the parties to control the outcome.