A divorce decree is a legal document that signifies that a couple is divorced. It is the divorce court’s final judgment in the case. This document formally ends your marriage. It also sets out specific instructions the spouses must follow. If a spouse does not obey the order, there may be consequences. Read on to learn more about what a divorce decree is, what it contains, and its significance in your divorce case.

When Is A Divorce Decree Issued?

A divorce decree is issued at the end of a divorce case. It generally takes the place of any temporary orders and will override these orders. When a spouse receives their divorce decree, this is usually the final step in the divorce process. The parties’ marital relationship is technically and legally severed. They are both free to marry other people.

In bifurcated divorces, the technical ending of the divorce happens before the legal issues like child support, spousal support, child custody, and property division are resolved. You might receive an initial divorce decree at the time your marriage is technically severed and then receive a more detailed order once the other issues have been resolved.

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Does A Divorce Decree Have To Be Signed?

State rules of civil procedure dictate the requirements for divorce decrees and who must sign them. Your divorce decree must be signed by a judge or otherwise contain an official stamp or symbol from the court. This shows that the document is an official legal document.

Some courts may require you and your spouse to sign the divorce decree first and present it to the judge in uncontested cases or if you do not want to have to appear in court. If your spouse refuses to sign divorce papers, this does not usually prevent you from getting divorced. The document is usually valid as long as the judge signs it.

Can A Divorce Decree Be Reversed?

While it may be possible to reverse a divorce decree, these cases are rare and often involve some type of legal or technical error. For example, a divorce decree might be reversed if the court found that the case was fraudulently presented or if legal service was not carried out properly. 

If a case is appealed, it is also possible that the appellate court can vacate the trial court’s decision, which may or may not reverse the divorce decree itself, depending on the circumstances. 

Divorce Decree Modification

If you cannot reverse your divorce decree, you might be wondering, “Can a divorce decree be changed?” The more common way to change a divorce order is to seek a modification. 

Common reasons to seek a modification of your divorce decree include:

  • You want to change child custody 
  • You want to ask for more or less child support
  • You want to ask for more or less spousal support

It is common to modify divorce orders for these reasons. Generally, these matters are “modifiable.” Orders regarding property division can often not be re-litigated and may be the final orders in the case. 

Seeking a modification is usually considered “post-judgment relief.” You may be able to get the court to modify language in the decree if you and your spouse both agree to it, if you can show that something has significantly changed since the decree was entered, or if there is a strong reason to change the decree. If you have to show a material change in circumstances, this may include providing proof that:

  • Your child is now living with you
  • You or the other parent lost their job
  • You or the other parent is living with another person
  • You or the other parent have recently moved
  • Your child is at risk because of changes in their household, drug abuse, violence, or other causes
  • Your child’s needs are not being met

To obtain a divorce decree modification, you must usually submit a petition with the same court where the original divorce decree was issued. The petition must spell out the changes you are requesting and why. The court may schedule a hearing where you and your former spouse must appear and provide evidence and testimony. 

What Kind of Information Is in a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree may include a significant amount of information, or it may provide a very basic outline, followed by a reference to another document that is incorporated into it, such as a marital property settlement agreement or parenting plan. Either way, the decree might include such information as:

  • Identifying information – The decree will state your name and your spouse’s name, county of residence, and other identifying information. Depending on how seriously your state takes privacy protections for minors, it may or may not include identifying information about your children.
  • Legal statements – The decree may include boilerplate language about the divorce petition, service, residency, waiting periods, and other matters to show that your case fulfills the legal requirements of your state. It may also state what type of divorce it has ordered and the date of separation. 
  • Property division – Any marital or community property you have may be identified in the decree. The decree may state how your real and personal property is allocated between you and your former spouse. It might also instruct one spouse to continue paying the mortgage, insurance, or other expenses related to the property. Your decree will also mention how any debt you accumulated during the marriage must be handled.
  • Support issues – The decree may also provide information about child and spousal support, if applicable. This may include the amount of support that must be paid, the frequency, and how to pay it. It may include a statement regarding when the support obligation will end and whether there will be a certain amount of time that must pass before the support obligation can be reviewed.
  • Child custody determinations – If you and your spouse have minor children together, the divorce decree may state which parent will have physical and legal custody, as well as other instructions regarding co-parenting. 

How Can I Get A Copy Of A Divorce Decree?

If you had a lawyer during the divorce process, you can ask them for a divorce decree copy. If not, you may be able to look online to retrieve a copy if the county where you were divorced provides public online access to court records. You can also ask the court clerk for a copy of your divorce decree.

Sometimes, you might need a certified copy of your divorce decree, which contains a unique stamp from the court and confirms that the document is a copy of the official court decree. Contact the court clerk’s office where your divorce was issued to inquire about how to obtain this type of divorce decree. There is often a small fee attached to this request.

Is A Divorce Decree Public Record?

In most jurisdictions, divorce decrees are a matter of public record. Anyone may be able to pull up a copy of your divorce decree and read it. Some people like celebrities and high net-worth individuals may ask the court to seal their documents so that they are not accessible by the public. When minors are involved, their identities may be protected by only using their initials on court documents, redacting the documents so you can’t see their names, or using a confidential information sheet to identify them that only the court staff have access to. 

Divorce Decree vs. Divorce Certificate

A divorce decree is an official legal document that is issued by the court. A divorce certificate is a document from your state’s vital records office that simply confirms that you were divorced. It often shows very basic demographic information about you and the divorce, including your and your spouse’s name, the date of divorce, and the location of the divorce. 

What If A Spouse Violates The Decree?

A divorce decree is not only a document that states you’re now divorced. It is a court order. If your spouse violates this order, you may be able to ask the court to enforce the order or have it find your spouse in contempt. Depending on the nature of the violation and your state, consequences of violating the order may include:

  • Jail time
  • Fees and fines
  • A required court appearance
  • A changing of property division or child custody provisions
  • Make-up visitation time
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5-Day Divorce Recovery Crash Course. Take the first steps in your recovery and start healing today! Send me the free emails