What Is a Final Divorce Decree?

Most divorce cases take months, if not years, to resolve. And when they do finally end, you will be left with a stack of important documents – some of which seemingly, and confusingly, fulfill a similar purpose. One of these documents is your final decree of divorce.

This is a so-called court document, which means that it is included in the record of your divorce proceedings, and under most circumstances, has been prepared and finalized by a court and judge. Divorce decrees are a clerical keystone at the end of a divorce case, summarizing the judge’s final orders on the property, insurance, custody, debt, and other important divorce decisions made throughout the case.

A final divorce decree will even note if the wife will retake her maiden name. Divorce decrees act as a final judgment from the court and judge on the matters of a divorce. A court also issues divorce decrees when a divorce battle never took place instead of summarizing the settlement details. Once a final decree of divorce.

A Decree, Not a Certificate

A final decree of divorce is different from a divorce certificate. A decree is an enforceable court order, in a sense. It is a judgment from the court declaring the results of your divorce, by which you and your ex should orient yourselves. On the other hand, a divorce certificate is an important piece of record-keeping that officializes the divorce, usually to prove that you are divorced.

Much like a death certificate or birth certificate, a divorce certificate includes the barest of details (such as the names of the divorcing parties and the date of the divorce). Divorce certificates ultimately have less authorization than a decree. However, there are cases where you would need to present your divorce decree instead.

For example, when undergoing a legal name change. You would need to present a supporting decree that states that the court authorized the change. The name change will not necessarily appear on the certificate. However, for nearly any other reason, a certificate is usually enough to prove that divorce was finalized.

When Do You Receive a Divorce Decree?

The divorce decree is issued at the very end of the divorce case, either after a judge’s decisions have been finalized and written out on the decree or after a settlement has been reviewed by a judge and has been deemed fair and under the law. At that point, a certified copy of the decree is usually sent to you via mail by the court or received personally in court.

If you do not have a copy of the divorce decree, it may be requested by the parties directly involved in the case. This includes both spouses and their legal representatives/attorneys. In most cases, you must personally appear at the county clerk’s office and pay a nominal fee per page to retrieve the decree. It helps to have certain information on hand when making an appointment with the county clerk, such as your divorce case number.

You can often find this information online by checking out your respective county’s divorce records or making a call to the clerk’s office. In addition, you can find the address for every vital records office in the United States via the CDC if you wish to obtain a copy of your divorce certificate. If you are not one of the divorcing parties or their attorneys, you will need notarized permission from either party to access the divorce decree.

Understanding When Your Divorce Is Final

A divorce is final once the judge signs the decree or judgment. At that moment, you are legally divorced and have earned the right to marry again. Furthermore, a decree is a legally enforceable document. This means that the terms of the decree act as a court order and can be used to take legal action if violated.

What Now?

Once you have obtained your final divorce decree, you will want to take care of a few other things.

      • First things first, take note of everything the decree outlines as an enforceable legal responsibility. This includes alimony, child support, judgments on accounts and property, name change rights, etc.
      • Ask your attorney any questions you might have. You will want to ensure that you are clear on the contents and meaning of the decree before you lose the chance to appeal it.
      • Next, consider making major changes to your estate plan if you have not already. Your estate planning documents determine who gets what when you die. They also serve as contingencies in cases of sudden incapacity or brain death.
      • Do not forget to review and close joint accounts or credit cards. Retitle your accounts in your name, update the ownership paperwork on properties and assets that have become yours wholly through the divorce. Review your paperwork with a professional.
      • Set up an automated alarm system or calendar to regularly remind you to make your scheduled payments. An ex-spouse is a serious creditor. Failing to pay child support or alimony can lead to drastic consequences, including levies.

For some of these actions, note that the financial institution responsible (such as an investment bank or insurance company) will require a copy of your divorce decree to divide accounts and retitle properties. However, a divorce certificate may not necessarily be enough, as they need to ensure that the retitling or dividing is per your final judgment. Every state has its own template and requirements for a divorce decree. They differ in content from state to state.

Still, all of them act to do the same thing: outline the final details of the divorce from property division to custody and act as a court order mandating that these judgments and decisions be upheld by both parties now that the divorce is finalized. If you are confused about the contents of your decree, it is critical to go over it with a legal professional. A judge’s decision can be appealed after the trial under certain valid grounds, and it’s important to start the process as soon as possible.

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