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What is a divorce decree?

A divorce decree is a legally binding document that officially ends a marriage and outlines the divorce terms. Learn all you need to know about it here.

evident Editorial Team
December 6, 2023
divorce, separation, marriage breakup

Getting divorced can be a complex and emotionally challenging process. A critical aspect of this journey involves understanding various legal documents, one of the most important being a divorce decree. This term frequently arises during divorce proceedings, but what is a divorce decree? 

A divorce decree, a final and legally binding document issued by a court, officially ends a marriage and outlines the divorce terms.

In this article, we'll cover the meaning and implications of a divorce decree, why you may need it, how to get a copy of divorce documents, and what happens after you receive it.

Understanding these crucial details can make navigating a divorce less daunting, empowering you to make informed decisions during this critical phase of your life.

Key Takeaways

Divorce Decree Meaning

A divorce decree is more than a document that marks the end of a marriage. It's a legal instrument that details the terms and conditions of the divorce, as set out by the court in its final judgment. It's the official end date of the marriage and signifies that the parties involved are legally divorced.

The decree acts as a roadmap for post-divorce life, detailing each party's responsibilities, rights, and commitments moving forward.

What is Included in a Divorce Decree?

child, kid, play

A divorce decree is a comprehensive legal document that includes a range of details. Most divorce decrees cover several key areas:

  1. Child Support and Custody: The decree outlines provisions for child support, detailing who will make payments, the amount, and the frequency. It also describes child custody arrangements for minor children, defining the terms for physical and legal custody.
  2. Spousal Support: The document specifies if any party is entitled to spousal support or alimony, how much, and for how long.
  3. Property and Retirement Account Division: The decree details how marital property, including retirement accounts, will be divided between the parties.
  4. Settlement Agreement: If a settlement agreement was reached, the decree includes this information directly, outlining the parties' agreed-upon terms.
  5. Other Provisions: The decree can also cover other pertinent issues such as debt division, insurance matters, and sometimes instructions concerning adult children.

The Importance of a Divorce Decree

A divorce decree is not just a document; it serves several critical roles that directly impact the lives of the individuals involved in the divorce.

Why You May Need a Divorce Decree

First and foremost, this document is proof of your legal divorce status, which you may need for various administrative or legal purposes, such as changing your name, updating your marital status on official documents, or remarrying.

hands, read, document

A divorce decree also provides a clear and enforceable roadmap for post-divorce life. It gives structure and clarity to complex issues like child support and child custody, spousal support, and the division of marital property and debts. This roadmap can help prevent future disputes and confusion about the responsibilities of each party after divorce.

Divorce Decree vs. Divorce Certificate

A common confusion exists between a divorce decree and a divorce certificate. While both pertain to divorce, they serve different purposes.

As we discussed, a divorce decree is a detailed court order outlining the terms of the divorce according to the court's divorce judgment.

divorce certificate, on the other hand, is a shorter document typically used for record-keeping purposes. Whereas a marriage certificate proves you are married, a certificate of divorce proves your divorce has been finalized. It does not, however, include details about the divorce agreement.

Understanding this difference can help you determine which document you need depending on your situation.

How to Get A Copy of Divorce Decree

You may need to present a copy of your divorce decree in various life situations. Whether it's for financial matters, legal transactions, or personal reasons, knowing how to obtain a copy is vital.

pueblo, colorado, courthouse

Here's how to get a copy of your divorce decree

  1. Court Clerk's Office: The first place to start is the court clerk in the county where your divorce was finalized. They keep records of all divorces and can provide you with a certified copy. You will need to provide your case number and pay a small fee. If you live far from the court, most offices offer online requests or via mail.
  2. State's Office of Vital Records: Some states keep divorce records at the state's health department or office of vital records. Procedures vary by state, so check the specific process for your state.
  3. Online: You may be wondering "how do I get a copy of my divorce decree online?", which would be much easier!  Well, some online services provide divorce records. You'll need to verify the service's legitimacy and ensure they can access records in the relevant state.  

What Does a Divorce Certificate Look Like?

Divorce certificates are official documents, typically a single-page document that includes the names of the divorced parties, the date of the divorce, and the court that issued the divorce. It will also have an official court seal or stamp and the judge's signature.

stamp, secret, important

Remember, a certificate differs from a decree; it provides proof of divorce but does not contain details about the divorce agreement.

What Happens After You Get Your Divorce Decree?

Once the judge signs your divorce decree, several steps follow to tie up loose ends and transition into your new life post-divorce.

Legal Binding of Terms: The terms outlined in the decree become legally binding, including aspects related to child support and custody, spousal support, and division of property. You'll need to adhere strictly to these terms, as failure to do so can result in legal penalties.

Shared Financial Responsibilities: For shared financial responsibilities, such as joint bank accounts or shared debts, you'll need to split these according to the terms in the decree. You may need to close joint accounts, refinance loans, or remove your former spouse's name from shared assets or liabilities.

Additional Considerations: If the decree outlines provisions for adult children or other family members, ensure these terms are fulfilled. The decree may also detail other responsibilities, such as attending parenting classes or providing proof of insurance coverage.

Understanding and complying with all the requirements and responsibilities your divorce decree outlines is crucial to avoid potential legal consequences.

FAQs About Divorce Decrees

Legal terminology and processes can often be complex and challenging, especially when they vary by state. Here are some common questions people ask about divorce decrees.

What is a Divorce Decree in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, a divorce decree functions similarly to other states. It's a final document that legally terminates a marriage. It includes provisions related to property division, spousal maintenance, child custody, and support.

You can obtain a copy of your divorce decree from the county clerk's office where the divorce was finalized.

How Do I Get a Copy of My Divorce Decree in MN?

In Minnesota, you can get a copy of your divorce decree from the court administrator's office in the county where the divorce was granted. Depending on the county's policies, you may also request a copy online.

What Does Decree Mean in Marriage?

In marriage, a decree refers to a legally binding order issued by a court, such as a divorce decree. It outlines the terms and conditions that both parties must adhere to upon the dissolution of the marriage.

How Do I Get a Copy of My Divorce Papers in Michigan?

In Michigan, you can request a copy of your divorce papers from the county clerk's office where the divorce was granted. There may be a small fee for this service, and you can also request the document by mail or online.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the intricacies of a divorce decree is fundamental in the divorce process. This crucial document serves as the official end of your marriage. It provides a roadmap for your post-divorce life, detailing everything from child custody and support to property division.

Whether you're seeking to understand the divorce process or need to obtain a copy of your divorce decree, remember to consult with a divorce attorney or legal expert to help you navigate the complexities of family law.