Importance of Divorce Decrees
Your divorce is not truly legal until the court issues your formal divorce decree. Even if you and your ex-spouse reach an amicable settlement agreement, your divorce will not be legal until the court finalizes the divorce with the decree.The final decree of divorce is defined as the divorce court's formal order granting a termination of your marital relationship. If your divorce case goes to trial and the judge issues a verdict, the verdict is confirmed when the decree finalizes the entire divorce process.
Understanding Your Decree
Every issue raised in the divorce must be finalized in the divorce decree. Most final decrees will cover the following five basic issues:
- Alimony or spousal support or maintenance
- Property division
- Custody of minor children conceived or born during the marriage
- Visitation of any minor children conceived or born during the marriage
- Child support for any minor children conceived or born during the marriage.
Even if you and your spouse file for an uncontested divorce, the final decree will need to address these issues in order to be a legal divorce.
When the Final Decree is Not Final
While the decree finalizes the divorce in most cases, there are circumstances where the decree does not represent the end of the process. In some situations, the final decree marks the beginning of an entirely new legal process: the appeal.
Generally, you cannot appeal a judge or jury's decision in your divorce case until the court issues the divorce decree. This is because most appeals courts do not wish to interrupt or disturb cases while they are still being decided.
Very few divorce cases are appealed to the state's higher courts. Most appeals are cumbersome and lengthy. They can often be more costly that the initial trial. Typically, an unhappy spouse or parent simply learns to deal with the negative aspects of the final decree of divorce.
Another situation where the final decree does not end the process is with respect to issues of alimony and child support. For example, alimony and child support can usually be modified at any time if there is a substantial change in the circumstances of the parties. For instance, if a non-custodial parents loses his/her job or becomes disabled, that parent can request a modification of the support obligations. Likewise, if a paying spouse wins the lottery, then the receiving spouse can return to court and request a modification of the support obligations.
Also, the final divorce decree is usually not the last word with respect to issues of child custody and visitation. Often times, the custody and visitation of the minor children is a fluid arrangement changing from season to season, as the children develop different needs or as the parents experience changes in their lifestyles. For instance, custody and visitation of an infant may not remain the same once the child enters school. Or, the custody and visitation arrangements may change if parents re-marry, move, or experience health issues.
How to Get Your Final Decree
When the court terminates your marriage, this fact is recorded as a public divorce record.
You will usually need a copy of your final decree of divorce in order to re-marry, change your name back to your maiden name, or remove your ex-spouse from accounts or insurance policies.
Your final divorce decree will be archived in the vital records repositories in the county in which you receive your divorce. If you want to obtain a copy of the final decree of divorce, you should write or go to the vital statistics office in the state or county where you received your divorce. You can also request a copy of your divorce decree online.