In a divorce proceeding, the final “divorce decree” is the court’s final judgment and order which grants the legal termination of a marriage. The decree basically summarizes the rights and legal responsibilities of the parties. 

The divorce decree also provides basic information such as the names of the parties, the case number, the date that the divorce becomes effective, and the terms that the parties may have agreed upon.  Sometimes a divorce decree will outline other provisions, such as the debts that the parties have incurred during marriage as well as their financial responsibilities after the divorce.

A record of the final decree of divorce is maintained in the vital records office of the courthouse in the county where the divorce occurred. These may be obtained if an extra copy is needed. 

What is Usually Addressed in a Divorce Decree?

Aside from providing basic information regarding the divorce, the decree will usually address the following five issues: 

These are the often the most important aspects of any divorce proceeding. The decree should specifically spell out each of these aspects in great detail. Once the decree is issued, these instructions become legally binding and will result in legal consequences if they are not followed.

Can a Divorce Decree Be Changed?

Under certain circumstances, the provisions in a divorce decree may be changed or modified.  Moreover, under more limited circumstances, the results of the entire decree may be challenged through the appeals process.

Normally, modifying a divorce decree is only allowed for the issues of alimony, child support and custody, and visitation rights.  That is, a judge usually cannot alter provisions dealing with the distribution of marital property.  The party that is seeking to modify a divorce decree must file a request with the court.  They must prove that there has been a “change in circumstances” that is significant enough to require a change in the decree. 

Can a Divorce Decree Be Appealed?

Appealing a divorce decree is sometimes allowed as well.  In most states, an appeal is not automatically granted- it must be filed for by the party seeking the appeal.  Also, most states will require the appealing party to show that there has been an error of law in the lower ruling.  That is, appeals generally cannot be based on disputes of facts. 

There are very strict deadlines involved for both appeals and modifications of divorce decrees.  For example, some types of appeals require that the party file the request immediately after the final decree is issued.  Other types of appeals may only be filed within the first 30 days after the judgment, and so on.

Thus, it may be necessary to consult with a lawyer if you are thinking about modifying or appealing a divorce decree, so that you avoid missing any filing deadlines.  

Are There Any Other Issues Involving Divorce Decrees?

A common issue with divorce decrees is whether they will be recognized in another state.  A divorce decree that is issued in one state should always be recognized in every other state in the U.S.  However, if a party wishes to challenge the validity of a divorce decree, they can often do so by filing the challenge in another state.  This type of procedure is very limited and often involves detailed proof that the decree was made in error. 

Another issue that frequently arises with divorce decrees is when one of the parties legally changes their name.  Legal name changes are not always automatically updated in a divorce decree.  Therefore it may be necessary to contact the records department at the court where the decree has been archived.  You would need to inform them of the name changes so that they can update the decree in their records.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have an issue with a divorce decree, it is in your best interest to contact a divorce lawyer for support and advice. An attorney can advise you on the divorce laws of your state, and provide further representation in court if more proceedings will be necessary.