What Is In A Divorce Decree?

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This post has been updated.

There are different kinds of decrees. There are presidential decrees and religious decrees that generally have to do with disciplinary acts or clarification of doctrine. There are the decrees that parents issue in regards to household rules and decrees issued by the human resources department of the company you work for.

What is a Divorce Decree?

Really, the word “decree” can refer to any sort of proclamation backed up with authority or law but in the world of family law, a “divorce decree” simply refers to the court’s final ruling and judgment order that makes the termination of a marriage official.

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

The divorce process is not complete until the divorce decree is issued. In other words, the party’s status as married or divorced will not be finalized until the divorce decree is completed. Incomplete divorce proceedings may have effects on different areas of life, such as debt, property possession, taxes, employment benefits, and other legal rights.

What’s In It?

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

  • Alimony or spousal support
  • The different 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
  • Basic facts of the divorce
  • The court case number

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” which typically just serves as basic legal proof that a couple are no longer married but doesn’t contain the more granular detail included in a divorce decree.

A divorce certificate can be used for various legal purposes such as changing one’s 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 regarding the decree such as modification of the original spousal support amount.

A divorce record is the case file from the divorce and contains all of the papers that were filed during the divorce.

Items such as

  • sworn statements from each spouse,
  • financial documentation used to determine division of property, 
  • support payments as well as
  • the actual divorce decree are included in the divorce record.

The court that granted the divorce is the keeper of the divorce record and similar to the divorce decree 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.

Related Reading: How the New Tax Plan Changes Divorce

Is a Divorce Decree Enforceable?

A divorce decree legally binds both parties to keep the terms of the divorce. The spouses cannot modify the terms of the divorce stated in the decree individually, collaboratively or through their lawyers.

The court approved each term and possesses the authority to enforce each term. If a spouse violates the terms of the divorce decree, the other spouse 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 one spouse continuously violates the terms set out in the divorce decree regarding parenting time, 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 3rd Party Loans?

It is important to bear in mind that a divorce decree does not nullify third-party financial commitments you have agreed to with creditors and other companies.

You have signed contracts with these organizations obligating yourself to the terms of the loans and are financially responsible and liable for their fulfillment and repayment regardless of the decree.

The divorce decree signifies an agreement among the court, your former spouse and you. No one else. It details who has agreed to take on responsibility for repayment of the debt and can be legally enforced by the court issuing the decree but if your former spouse neglects or refuses to obey the terms of the decree, your credit score can still be impacted and you are still liable for repayment.

Related Reading: 7 Simple Steps to Divorce

How You’re Affected If Your Ex is Delinquent

You can attempt to revise the contract with the lender but the decision to do so is entirely at their discretion. They may be willing to remove you from responsibility for the debt but if the payment is delinquent then the lender is extremely unlikely to do so.

Your best recourse to protect your credit score may be to repay the debt in full. Then petition the court to compel your former spouse to compensate you for the amount you spent covering their court determined commitment.

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

Who Has Access To My Decree?

In the state of California, a divorce decree is commonly known as a “Judgment”.  In California 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 and it is stamped with a declaration that the document is not valid for identification purposes.

Divorce decrees are classified as confidential documents in California and while they can be ordered online, they are not available for downloading from the Internet. The state imposes a fee for obtaining a copy of a divorce decree, both authorized and informational.

California has determined that someone requesting a divorce decree must meet one of the following classifications to obtain a certified document:

  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.

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

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