partial or total dissolution of a marriage
by the judgment of a court. Partial dissolution is a divorce "from bed and board," a decree of judicial separation
, leaving the parties officially married while forbidding cohabitation. Total dissolution of the bonds of a valid marriage is what is now generally meant by divorce. It is to be distinguished from a decree of nullity of marriage
, or annulment, which is a judicial finding that there never was a valid marriage.
Although created by a contract between husband and wife, marriage is a legal relation of a particular nature with certain mutual rights and obligations, determined not by agreements but by the general law. In a sense, then, the state has an interest in every marriage. The parties cannot themselves officially terminate the marital relation by a contract of separation.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.