california divorce decrees

What Is In A Divorce Decree?

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Many different kinds of decrees exist. For example, presidential decrees. Or religious decrees, which generally have to do with disciplinary acts or clarification of doctrine. There are the decrees that parents issue in regard to household rules and decrees issued by the human resources department of the company you work for. But what’s a divorce decree? If you end a marriage, this is an important one.

What is a Divorce Decree?

Really, the word decree refers to any sort of proclamation backed up with authority or law. In the world of family law, a divorce decree simply refers to the court’s final ruling and judgment order that officially terminates a marriage.

The divorce process doesn’t end until the court issues a divorce decree.

In other words, your status as married or divorced isn’t final until completing this step. Incomplete divorce proceedings may have effects on different areas, such as debt, taxes, property possession, employment benefits, and other legal rights.

Each divorce decree looks different, but in general, the purpose is to summarize the rights and duties of each party in connection with the divorce.

Related Reading: What Are The Different Types Of Divorce In California?

What’s In A Divorce Decree in California?

A few of the issues and topics typically addressed in a divorce decree include:

  • Alimony or spousal support.
  • The financial obligations of each party such as the assignment and/or division of debt responsibility.
  • Custody of minor children.
  • Child support.
  • Visitation rights.
  • Division of property.

This document also lays out the basic facts of your divorce even down to the case number. If you need information about your divorce, look here.

Related Reading: What’s My Ex Entitled to in Divorce?

Divorce Decree Vs. Certificate Vs. Record

A divorce decree should not be confused with a divorce certificate. The latter serves as basic legal proof that you’re no longer married. It doesn’t, however, contain the more granular details of the split.

You use a divorce certificate for various legal purposes. A common example is changing your legal name with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on a driver’s license.

Laws vary from state to state as to who is allowed to receive a copy of a divorce certificate. But when it comes to the actual divorce decree, in most cases only one of the spouses or their attorney may request a copy of the document.

Access to the actual decree is important for checking the specific terms of the divorce or for filing an action in court. For example, if you try to modify your spousal support payments, you need this document.

A divorce record is the case file from the legal proceedings. It collects all of the papers and forms you filed during the divorce.

This includes:

    • Sworn statements from each spouse.
    • Financial documents used to determine the division of property.
    • Support payments.
    • A copy of the actual divorce decree.

The court that granted the divorce keeps the divorce records. Similar to the divorce decree, this is only available to one of the former spouses or their legal counsel.

Reasons for needing the divorce record include mounting a challenge to agreements or decisions determined in the original divorce, or for record-keeping purposes.

Related Reading: Are Divorce Records Public?

Is a Divorce Decree Enforceable?

A divorce decree legally binds both parties to keep the terms of the divorce.

The court approved the specifics and possesses the authority to enforce each term. If your ex violates the divorce decree, you can return to court to bring the issue before the judge.

Judges impose penalties for violations, which include holding the violating spouse in civil contempt of court.

Judges also order modifications due to violations. For instance, if your ex continuously flaunts the terms of your visitation agreement, a judge can modify parenting time based on the best interests of the child.

Related Reading: Gift or Inheritance? And Why That Matters

Do Decrees Affect Third-Party Loans?

It’s important to bear in mind divorce decrees do not nullify third-party financial commitments you have with creditors and other companies.

You signed contracts and agreed to the terms of the loans and are financially responsible for their fulfillment. Divorce doesn’t automatically change that.

In many cases, a divorce decree details who is responsible for the repayment of the debt. For example, if you get the house in the division of property, you are responsible for paying the mortgage. A decree lays all of this out.

However, just because the court says one of you is responsible for a debt doesn’t let you entirely off the hook. As we mentioned, just because you divorce, that doesn’t alter any preexisting contracts.

Say the court orders your ex to pay off a joint car loan. If they do, great. But things don’t always go as planned. If they miss payments, that can come back on you. It may affect your credit. In extreme cases, creditors may even come after you for the money owed.

Fortunately, if this happens, you usually have legal recourse. In fact, many divorce decrees specify that whoever winds up responsible for a joint loan must refinance and remove the other person. But again, just because the court orders it, doesn’t mean it always happens. It’s never a bad idea to keep an eye on such things.

Related Reading: Is there Recourse for a Mistake on a Divorce Decree?

Who Has Access To My Decree?

In California, these are commonly known as judgments. Certified copies of divorce decrees are either authorized or informational and must be obtained from the specific county Superior Court where the divorce papers were filed.

An informational divorce decree is available for family history or genealogy purposes. These, however, are stamped with a declaration that the document is not valid for identification purposes.

California classifies divorce decrees as confidential documents. While they can be ordered online, they are not available for downloading from the Internet.

The state imposes a fee for obtaining a copy, for both authorized and informational varieties.

In California, to request a certified divorce decree you must meet certain requirements, including:

  1. Be a named party in the divorce.
  2. Be a parent or legal guardian of a named party.
  3. Be a current spouse of a named party.
  4. Be a domestic partner of a named party.
  5. Be a sibling of a named party.
  6. Be a child of a named party.
  7. Be a grandparent of a named party.
  8. Be an authorized or legal representative of a named party.

As in all divorce matters, having a great support system including competent legal counsel is of the utmost importance. An experienced attorney will help make sure a divorce decree contains all the information it should.

Related Reading: Bankruptcy Or Divorce: Which Do You File First?

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