A divorce decree is the court’s final decision that ends a marriage. In general, a divorce decree summarizes the rights and responsibilities of each party involved in the divorce.

Divorce decrees are important because the divorce process is not complete until one is issued. Thus, the party’s status as married or divorced will not be finalized until the final divorce decree is completed. Divorce proceedings that are not yet completed may affect different areas of life, such as debt, property possession, taxes, employment benefits, and other legal rights. As such, it is important to obtain a final divorce order.

Many couples can resolve their divorce issues outside of court. They may DIY their divorce, mediate, or participate in a collaborative divorce. Whenever couples reach an agreement, they write it down in a marital settlement agreement. A settlement agreement is then presented to the court by the couple.

Most judges attach the settlement agreement to or refer to it in the decree instead of writing the terms directly into the divorce decree. It is common for a divorce decree to contain fewer details than a written settlement agreement created by the parties (or their attorneys).

The decree will be signed by both spouses and their attorneys (if any) and the judge. In many courts, the clerk will stamp the final document with an official court seal.

Once a judge signs your divorce decree, it is valid. After the divorce is finalized, you should visit the family court clerk’s office to get a certified copy stamped with the court’s seal. Proof of divorce is often required in many places.

What Does a Divorce Decree Usually Contain?

Divorce decrees usually address issues such as:

  • Division of property between the parties
  • Spousal support or alimony
  • Child custody, support, and visitation (if applicable)
  • Various financial obligations of each party (for instance, if there is debt to be paid by one or more parties)

In addition to these legal issues, the divorce decree will usually contain basic information connected with the case, such as the names of each party, the effective date of the decree, and the case number. This can often help in locating records of the divorce decree in the future, which the local county records office often keeps.

Because a divorce decree is a court order, both ex-spouses are bound by its terms.

In addition, you can usually revert to a former name during your divorce if you’ve chosen to do so. It is possible to use your divorce decree as proof that you’ve legally changed your name when a judge grants your request to revert to your former name.

Additionally, many decrees include specific orders regarding:

  • Division of property and debt
  • Parenting time and custody of children
  • Support for children
  • Maintenance or alimony (spousal support)
  • Retirement account division (including a qualified domestic relations order if necessary),
  • Any other issues related to the case.

Once the judge signs the divorce decree, you are legally divorced. Upon approving your marital settlement agreement or deciding on any unresolved issues, the judge will enter your divorce decree (make it a final judgment).

Where Can I Get a Copy of the Divorce Decree?

The final divorce decree is kept in the vital records office of the county courthouse where the divorce occurred. An extra copy can be obtained if needed.

Some courts allow you to request a certified copy online, while others require a written request.

There is usually a fee for a copy of your decree in almost all courts.

The health department or office of vital records may be able to provide you with a copy of your divorce decree in some states. However, most vital records offices only provide copies of divorce ruling certificates, not divorce decrees.

Another document you can use to prove your divorce is a divorce certificate. The document is usually bare-bones and contains only the following:

  • Spouses’ names
  • Judge’s name
  • The name and location of the court that granted the divorce, as well as
  • The date on which the divorce was finalized.

As the state issues a divorce certificate, you can use it in most situations where you need to provide proof of divorce but do not want to reveal the details of the divorce.

Each state has its own procedures for obtaining a divorce certificate. Your state’s vital records office (such as the health department or office of vital records) can provide you with a copy (for a fee).

In some states, divorce decrees and certificates are only available to spouses and their attorneys. For a copy, you will probably need to submit a government-issued identification (like a driver’s license or passport) if that’s the case where you live.

Can a Divorce Decree Be Changed?

It is possible to modify or change the provisions of a divorce decree under certain circumstances. Additionally, the entire decree may be challenged through the appeals process under certain circumstances.

Normally, modifying a divorce decree is only allowed for the issues of alimony, child support and custody, and visitation rights. Generally, a judge cannot alter provisions dealing with the distribution of marital property. Divorce decrees can be modified by filing a court request. A “change in circumstances” must be significant enough to warrant a change in the decree.

Can a Divorce Decree Be Appealed?

Divorce decrees can also be appealed. In most states, an appeal is not granted automatically- it must be filed by the party seeking it. Additionally, most states require the appealing party to show that the lower ruling was erroneous. In general, appeals cannot be based on factual disputes.

Appealing a divorce decree and modifying it both have very strict deadlines.

Some types of appeals require the party to file the request immediately after the final decree is issued, for example. In addition, some appeals can only be filed within 30 days of the judgment.
To avoid missing any filing deadlines, you may need to consult with a lawyer if you are considering modifying or appealing a divorce decree.

Are There Any Other Issues Involving Divorce Decrees?

When it comes to divorce decrees, it is common to wonder whether they will be recognized in another state. When a divorce decree is issued in one state, it should be recognized in every other state in the U.S. However, if either party wishes to challenge the validity of the divorce decree, they can file the challenge in a different state. The process is very limited and often involves detailed proof that the decree was made in error.

One of the most common issues with divorce decrees is when one of the parties legally changes their name. Divorce decrees do not always automatically update legal name changes. It may be necessary to contact the records department at the court where the decree was archived. In order for them to update the decree in their records, you would need to inform them of the name change.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Divorce Decree?

If you have an issue with a divorce decree, it is in your best interest to contact a divorce lawyer for support and advice. If more proceedings are required, an attorney can advise you on the divorce laws in your state and represent you in court.