Divorce is the legal term that is used to describe the procedure that dissolves a marriage between two people who were legally married. Once a divorce is finalized, each party may then choose to remarry if they wish to do so. A divorce decree is the final ruling from a court which provides a judgment and order.
The purpose of a signed and executed divorce decree is to make the termination of the marriage official. Typically, a divorce decree will need to be signed by both spouses, the judge, and each spouse’s attorney if they retained an attorney to assist them in the divorce.
Every divorce decree will be different, as each divorce decree will be based upon the unique facts and circumstances of the parties. The general purpose of a divorce degree is to outline the rights and duties of each party, as well as to provide instructions regarding child custody, child support, and the division of marital property when applicable.
A divorce decree is important because the divorce process will not be complete until the decree is issued and signed by the judge. This means that a person’s status as either married or divorced will not be changed or finalized until the divorce decree has been fully executed.
Divorce proceedings that have not yet concluded may affect many different areas of a person’s life, including:
- The person’s debt and their ability to pay down their debt;
- Possession of property, and the ability to deal with property, such as selling the property;
- Filing taxes; and
- An individual’s employment benefits, including medical insurance coverage.
Once again a divorce decree generally addresses various issues regarding marriage such as:
- The division of marital property between the divorcing parties;
- Issues regarding whether or not spousal support or alimony will be ordered;
- Legal issues associated with children, when applicable, including:
- Custody of the children;
- The amount of child support to be paid, if any; and
- The non-primary parent’s rights to visitation or electronic communication; and
- The future financial obligations of each party.
- For example, the divorce decree will outline which debts are to be paid by one or both of the parties, as well as how and when such payments are to be made.
In addition to the above legal issues, a divorce decree will also contain basic information regarding the case including:
- The correct legal names of the parties;
- The effective date of the divorce decree, i.e. the date in which the judge signs the order; and
- The case number for the divorce case.
All of the above information can be helpful when attempting to locate records of the divorce in the future. Divorce records are generally kept by the local county records office, or the records office for the court in which the divorce judgment was rendered. A divorce record provides evidence that the two people were married, and that they have legally and officially terminated that marriage as of the date of the signed order. It is worth noting that a divorce record or decree may also be referred to as a marriage dissolution certificate in many places.
In most cases, divorce decrees and records are official state documents. This means that divorce records can be accessed from the recording department and certified for a fee. Divorce records may also be indexed. This means that records of the divorce and the documents of the divorce case may be accessible through various websites or organizations.
However, many records involved during a divorce proceeding may be sealed by order of the court, or marked as confidential, to protect the personal information of the parties that were involved in the divorce proceedings. In addition to the documents submitted by both parties subject to the divorce proceedings, records of the testimony given in court by the parties may be recorded by a court reporter.
How Is the Divorce Process Started?
In order to initiate a divorce, the first step is to file a divorce petition in the court in which you reside. It is important to note that a divorce petition may typically only be filed in the court in which an individual resides. For example, if an individual was married in Las Vegas, but lived in a small town in Texas, they would file the divorce petition in their small town in Texas to dissolve the marriage that occurred in Las Vegas.
If one of the parties has left the residence and established a domicile in another location, they may also be able to initiate divorce proceedings by filing a divorce petition in their new domicile. Then, the other party would be forced to file an answer to the divorce petition in the other location. Further, even if the parties both agree that they want to get divorced, one party must still file the initial petition to begin the process. Additionally, many states require the party filing the divorce petition to state the grounds for the divorce.
However, some states do not require grounds for divorce. For example, California is a no-fault divorce state. This means that in California, the petitioner (i.e. the party initiating the divorce proceedings) need only state “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for the divorce. Some states will still consider fault grounds in a divorce proceeding, such as adultery or abandonment. In these states, the division of marital property or legal issues involving children may be affected by the grounds for the divorce.
What Legal Documents Are Created in a Divorce Proceeding?
As mentioned above, one of the most important documents in a divorce proceeding is the final decree of divorce. The final divorce decree will outline each parties legal obligations moving forward, the division of marital property, as well as issues involving children. In addition to the final decree of divorce, there are numerous other legal documents which may be created during the divorce proceedings that outline the obligations of the parties during the divorce proceeding itself.
For example, the following is a list of documents and case actions that are common in a divorce proceeding:
- Temporary Orders: In many divorce proceedings, the court may issue temporary orders. Temporary orders are orders that outline the obligations of each party during the divorce proceeding.
- For example, temporary orders may include orders for the possession of the marital home, child support, spousal support, and child custody;
- Service of Process: Unless the other party subject to the divorce waives the service of process, the spouse that files the petition for divorce must serve the petition on the other party.
- Response or Answer: Once the spouse (i.e. the respondent) gets served process of the petition for divorce, they must file a response to the petition. A typical response to a divorce decree will either accept or contest the original petition for divorce.
- Typically an individual will have 30 days to file an answer to a petition for divorce, but the response time may vary depending on local laws.
- Divorce Discovery: The term discovery is the legal term that is used to describe the process in which both parties gather information about the other party involved in the divorce proceeding. The following is a common list of discovery:
- Disclosures: Once a party has initiated divorce proceedings, both parties subject to the divorce are required to disclose certain information regarding their assets, liabilities, income, and expenses to the other party;
- Interrogatories: Interrogatories are a list of questions that one party may send to the other party and require them to answer. The other party will then answer the questions under oath;
- Requests for Admissions: Requests for admissions are a list of yes or no questions that one party may send to the other party to have them admit or deny certain issues of the divorce; and
- Requests for Production: In some divorce proceedings the required disclosures are not enough information for a party to address all of the issues involved with the marriage. Requests for production allow one party to request certain items be produced or made available to the other party.
How Long Does the Divorce Process Take?
One of the most commonly asked questions regarding divorce is the length of time necessary to finalize a divorce. The short answer is, it depends. There are a number of different issues that will determine how long the divorce process will take from start to finish.
Most states require anywhere between a 0 to 6 month waiting period after filing the initial divorce petition before a divorce may be finalized. As such, one of the main factors regarding the amount of time necessary to complete a divorce is local laws regarding the waiting period.
Another main factor is whether or not there are any contested issues in the divorce. For example, if there are no contested issues in the divorce, and no waiting period, an uncontested divorce could be completed in as little as one week. However, on average a typical divorce will take more than 6 months.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help With a Divorce?
As can be seen, there are many issues that are involved in a typical divorce proceeding. As such, if you are thinking about getting a divorce, or if you have been served with divorce paperwork, it is important to consult with an experienced divorce lawyer immediately. It is absolutely necessary to advise an attorney if there are children that are involved in the divorce.
An experienced family law attorney will be able to help you determine your best course of legal action, and ensure that your rights are protected throughout the divorce proceedings.
Additionally, an attorney will also be able to ensure that you have full access to all of the documentation necessary to make informed decisions regarding the divorce and division of marital assets. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you at any temporary orders hearings, as well as at the final hearing.