Family dissolution is when a group of people who have lived together in a domestic manner, typically involving at least one adolescent and two parents, end or change these living arrangements. This term is used relatively loosely, referring to any situation in which a family that once fit the nuclear family model changes drastically in the number of people or locations involved. Not only is family dissolution a term used for divorce, it is also used for desertion by a parent or the death of a parent. While family dissolution is used very loosely in a variety of settings, there are also legal issues, such as custody, surrounding family dissolution that make definitions more important.
Many families end by dissolution of marriage or divorce. Even in no-fault divorces, parents typically restructure the methods used to rear children and the locations used to raise them. For instance, what was once a single household may become two households. Additional parties, such as stepparents, may become involved in the family as well. Depending on the situation, the former familial unit may continue to act as a single unit or fully divide into two separate bodies.
Death and desertion, where one party leaves the family with no ability or intention to return, can also dissolve a family. These events are usually less legally complex for the family remaining, although they are often more sad for those involved. Both death and desertion may result in the addition of family members when the remaining parent remarries.
There are also unique situations that result in family dissolution. For instance, some single parents who are enlisted in armies are forced to leave their children. Also, a parent going to prison can dissolve a family. Any number of infractions can cause government officials to remove children from a household as well. In some cultures, duties such as military service supersede parental obligations, resulting in the dissolution of many families.
Single parent families and other unique situations are still considered families by those who live in those situations and many others. Family dissolution, then, mainly refers to a change in family state. The family does not cease to exist as might be implied by the term dissolution, but rather it changes enough that it is no longer precisely the same family. There are a variety of social and emotional effects involved when one thinks of these families as broken, so it is advisable to think of them as merely different. Even dissolved families can be emotionally satisfying and loving.