Going through a divorce is draining – both emotionally and legally. Adding to the emotional turmoil is the long legal process with numerous steps involved in it. Even after the mediation or trials end, you still have questions such as, “When will my divorce get finalized?” “What is a final divorce decree and how long will it take to get one?”
It is natural to have such questions because these documents are necessary to rebuild your life. One such important document is a divorce decree. In this post, MomJunction tells you about a divorce decree in the US, when it is issued, what it contains, and other related details.
What Is A Final Divorce Decree?
A divorce decree is a document signed and issued by the court after the termination of the marriage. The decree summarizes the agreements, rights, and responsibilities of both the parties.
It will also have the basic information such as the case number, the names of the parties, date of divorce, etc. It will also outline the terms of the agreement in the case of the dissolution of marriage (divorce by mutual consent).
The divorce decree is different from the divorce certificate and divorce record.
What Is The Difference Between A Divorce Decree, Divorce Certificate And A Divorce Record?
All these three documents are different and have their own purpose. Here is how they differ.
|Divorce decree||Divorce certificate||Divorce record|
|An official document that finalizes the divorce process.||Pronounces that the couple is now divorced.||Contains the entire information of the divorce process in a single file.|
|Issued by the state court where the divorce took place.||Issued by the state’s health department or the bureau of statistics.||Available at the court that has processed the divorce.|
|Is like a court’s order that explains the duties and responsibilities of both the parties post-divorce.||Serves as proof that the couple is no longer married. Contains minimal information such as names of the parties, date, and place of divorce. Typically has the same purpose as that of a birth or marriage certificate.||Is documentation of the whole divorce process. Is useful if either of the parties wants to file an appeal or a motion in the court.|
What Does A Divorce Decree Usually Contain?
Along with the information such as the names of the parties, date of divorce, case number, etc., a divorce decree covers the below important matters:
- Alimony: If one of the parties is financially dependent on the other, then the financially better spouse has to give them alimony. Alimony can be permanent, temporary, or rehabilitative. The frequency, means, and duration of the payment are all finalized before the decree is signed.
- Property division: The divorce decree includes the details about the division of all the properties between the two parties. Make sure the decree is clear about the division to avoid any litigation in the future.
- Division of debt: This divides the joint debt taken during the period of your marriage, and the terms and means of its payment.
- Custody: Once both the partners agree, the court finalizes the custody of the children. It is not modified unless there is a major change in circumstances.
- Visitation and child support: The decree contains clear terms of visits and child support. Lines such as “Each must spend reasonable time with the children” are vague and can be misinterpreted. Hence make sure the decree outlines the visitation terms such as the frequency, time, transportation, costs associated with each visit, etc.
You need to go through the decree carefully because once you sign and send it to the court, it is difficult to make any changes in it. If you are unable to understand the terms, take the help of your attorney.
When Is A Divorce Decree Issued?
The issue of the divorce decree is the last step in a divorce procedure. The decree is issued in two ways based on how your divorce is processed.
- If your divorce went through a trial, then the judge examines all the evidence, weighs the testimonies and decides on the responsibilities of each partner towards child support, alimony, visitation, etc. Both the partners are legally bound to follow the decision of the court, and if one of the partners refuses to follow, the other can register a complaint against them.
- In settlement divorce cases, once the couple submits the agreement in the court, the judge examines the settlement agreement and determines if it is fair and in accordance with the law. If yes, the judge issues a divorce decree stating all the terms and conditions of the agreement. If one of the parties fails to abide by the rules of the settlement, then the other partner can file a motion with the court to enforce the agreement.
The decree takes more time in the case of a trial than in mutual agreement. In both situations, the court sends the copies of the agreement for the parties to examine and sign. Then the judge signs it and puts a seal of approval.
When Do You Receive Your Divorce Decree?
After the judge signs it, the decree is sent to the records office. Here the clerk enters the judgment and the date of the divorce in the court records. The copies are then mailed to each party or to the attorneys representing them.
How Long Does It Take To Get A Divorce Decree?
It usually takes a couple of weeks to months. The duration depends on:
- The volume of divorce cases in the court and the time taken for the judge to get to your case number.
- In certain US states, there is a waiting period to give the couple one last chance for reconciliation.
Once you get the decree, you need to go through the copy carefully to make sure everything is right and there is no need for any changes in it.
Can You Change A Final Divorce Decree?
Once the final divorce decree is signed and submitted, making any changes involves an elaborate process. The court permits it only in certain instances such as:
- Either of the parties is not ok with the divorce decree.
- The decree has some mistake or grammatical errors.
- One of the parties signed the decree under duress.
The parties can file for an appeal to modify the divorce decree. Here is an overview of the process.
- Notice of appeal: This is allowed only when there is a significant error of fact or law or an abuse of discretion by the judge. Then the affected party can file a notice of appeal. There are strict guidelines and procedures to be followed, failing which can deprive you of the right to appeal.
- Record on appeal: Once the notice of appeal is received, the court prepares a record on appeal. It consists of all the trial documents, the clerk’s records, and the court reporter’s trial transcripts.
- The appellate briefs: The party, who is filing the appeal, must then prepare their part of the arguments, including all the documents such as case records, clerk’s documents, reporter’s transcripts, etc.
- Arguments: If the court permits oral argument, then time is given for both the parties to present their case. No witness or evidence is considered.
- The decision: After the court has received all the documents and has heard the arguments, it will take 30-60 days to process and reach a conclusion.
An appeal process is expensive, and the result may or may not be as desired. However, modifications are less expensive and can be quickly processed.
What To Do After You Get The Divorce Decree?
Getting the divorce decree is a big relief to you as the long and arduous process is finally over. However, before you think about your future course of action, here is what you should do after you get the decree:
- Go through the decree: A divorce decree is no fun to read, but make sure you go through the entire document. If you have trouble understanding the legal jargon, then seek help from your attorney. Do not assume things as the divorce decree is important for your life after divorce.
- Make a note of the obligations: The document contains certain obligations that you and your ex-spouse have to follow. Make a to-do list of all these obligations to avoid violating the divorce decree.
- Update the necessary documents: Now that the divorce is final, you can go ahead and change the important documents such as the will, power of attorney, insurance policies, emergency contact information, bank accounts, nominees, tax withholdings, etc.
- Take out some time for yourself: Relax and take out some time for yourself. Hit the gym, meet your friends, go out on a short trip, or simply start reading a book, as you would need all the positive energy you can get.
What Are The Uses Of A Divorce Decree?
A divorce decree is needed to officially close your divorce process. The written document marks the completion of the divorce. You might need to have a divorce decree for the below reasons:
- A divorce decree allowing you to retain your maiden name must be produced to change your name back in the passport, social security, credit cards, etc.
- To refinance the marital residence and remove the spousal name from the mortgage.
- If you want to marry again, the state will want to see the divorce decree at the time of registration.
- To file motions against your ex-spouse when they fail to abide by the agreed terms and conditions.
How Can You Get A Copy Of Your Divorce Decree In Future?
Once your divorce is finalized, the court will send you or your attorney a certified copy of the divorce decree. You can also get a free copy from the below-mentioned sources.
- Court clerk’s office: The court clerk’s office keeps a copy of the decree. You can identify your decree in their office through a simple online search using the case number. If you do not have the case number, then you can also search by using your name, date of divorce, attorney name, etc. Generally, the clerk’s office archives the divorce records for 10 years (1).
In certain states, you can submit a request form to the office to mail you a copy of your divorce decree. They would charge a fee for sending the copy. If you are not one of the divorced parties and need a copy of the decree, then you must submit a notarized letter or signed affidavit from one of the parties granting you the permission to view or obtain the divorce decree.
- Department of archives: After 10 years, the divorce decrees are moved from the court clerk’s office to the department of archives variously known as the department of vital records, the office of vital statistics, etc. You can download the application form from their website, fill it and submit it with the processing fee and mail to the department (2). If you are not a party, then you also need to submit a notarized letter from the party permitting you to view and obtain a copy.
- Attorneys: You may also contact the attorney, who has processed the case. Attorneys usually have the copies of the decrees. You can also write a letter to your spouse’s attorney to help you with a copy.
It must be noted that the procedures are different in different states in the US. So, know the procedure in your state and go ahead accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I get a copy of my divorce decree online?
In the US, each state has its own procedure for obtaining a divorce decree. Online resources are available to search and locate your divorce decree. In order to obtain it, you either need to mail the vital records department or contact the court clerk’s office in person (3).
2. Is a divorce decree public record?
Just as any other court records, a divorce decree is also a public record. But upon request, the court can consider filing your divorce under seal. Even if it is a public record, it will not be shared with anyone except the parties involved.
3. Do I need a lawyer for help with divorce decree?
You need not hire a lawyer to help you with the divorce decree. But if you have employed a lawyer for the entire divorce process, they will help you in getting the divorce decree as well as in understanding it.
4. Can a final divorce decree be undone?
No, a final divorce decree cannot be undone. If you want to get back to your spouse, you need to remarry them. However, there are options to withdraw at various stages of the divorce. Here are some of them (4).
- After you have filed a petition of divorce or a complaint against your spouse, you must serve them with a copy of the complaint. If you want to go back at this point in time, then you just have to do nothing. That means, do not send the notice to your spouse and the court will dismiss the case.
- If you have already served the notice to your spouse, then you and your spouse may keep away from the court proceedings. The court might dismiss your case with a small fine. But if your partner goes ahead, they can get the divorce finalized on their terms.
- You can also file a motion to dismiss your complaint. But if your spouse has filed a counterclaim, then the court can proceed until it receives dismissal motions from both the parties.
- Once the divorce decree is finalized, there is no way to take it back. All you can do is file a motion to modify it.
Even though it seems to be hard, you need to have patience and focus when dealing with a divorce. As the divorce decree is the last step in the process, many tend to be in haste to complete it but make sure you are completely ok with the terms and conditions before you sign the divorce decree.
Do you have any suggestions to make with regard to the divorce decree? Do let us know in the comments section below.
2. How to obtain certified copies of divorce records (2018); California Department of Public Health
3. Where to write for vital records; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4. Filing for divorce or separation FAQs; California Courts, The Judicial Branch of California