Divorce Decree 101: A Quick Guide

When it comes to filing your paperwork at the end of your divorce, it’s incredibly important to understand each individual document. Official documents pertaining to your divorce should be easily understood, recognized, and identified, in case you need to access them in the future.

A divorce decree, the document that marks the official end of your marriage, is one such significant document. Understanding what it does, what it includes, and even how it can be modified can save you time and money.

What is a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree is an official court document containing the final settlement and agreement for your divorce. While it can come in all shapes and sizes, a divorce decree’s primary purpose is to make the termination of a marriage official and summarize the duties and rights of each party in connection with the divorce.

The divorce process is not complete until the divorce decree is issued by a judge and filed with the court clerk. This means the status of a party is married and their divorce is not finalized until the divorce decree is issued. Without a divorce decree, your marriage can still affect various aspects of your life, including debt, taxes, employment benefits, property possession, and other legal rights.

What Does a Divorce Decree Contain?

If a divorce decree marks the official end of your marriage and establishes your newly single life, what can you expect to find covered in it? Most couples will include everything they need to jointly address and separate into an equitable settlement. However, it should be noted that the issuance of a divorce decree also typically marks the end of employer benefits from a spouse, including health insurance and other types of coverage.

A divorce decree settles the financial and legal aspects of a married couple’s split. The decree untangles debts and marks the specific obligations of each spouse toward a shared or accumulated debt. According to the judge’s decision, it also divides property, real estate, and assets (including retirement accounts, savings accounts, and other finances) between the two of you.

The issues a divorce decree addresses can include:

  • Alimony or spousal support
  • Child custody, visitation, and support
  • Division of properties between the parties
  • Financial obligations of each party (this includes debt to be paid by one or both parties)

Apart from the legal issues, the divorce decree also contains basic information connected to the case, including:

  • Names of each party
  • Case number
  • Effective date of the decree

The local county records office will keep the records and information pertaining to the divorce decree. The above basic information will help locate divorce records in the future.

Getting the Divorce Decree

The final decree or divorce decree represents the sanctioned and official outcome of a divorce proceeding. It provides details about the parties involved in the divorce action, as well as decisions made about the division of assets, child custody, and other matters.

To make a divorce decree official, a judge must sign it. Then, the paperwork must be filed with the court clerk.

If you’re a party to the divorce, it’s important you keep the decree in a safe place. There are many public agencies and private firms that require the decree to verify marital status.

Even though the court provides a certified copy of the decree, you’ll be able to get an additional copy if you need one. If you’re not a party to the divorce action and require a copy of the decree, the courts will require you to provide additional paperwork.

Court Clerk Office

The civil court where the divorce proceedings are filed keeps a copy of the divorce decree (hard copy and electronic) in its records. The minimum period for which the court is required to keep a copy of the decree is 7 to 10 years.

The location of the decree can be verified with an online search. After this, you’ll need to visit the court clerk office to obtain a copy.

Case number and identification will be required. If you’re not aware of the case number, the clerk will search by date, party, attorney, and judge.

A signed affidavit from one of the parties or a notarized letter is required if you’re not a party to the divorce action and want to access the divorce decree.

Department of Records

If the court clerk office no longer has the records of the divorce decree, you need to apply to the department of vital records, registrar, or office of vital statistics. This is done in the county where the divorce proceedings took place.

If the county records department doesn’t keep divorce decrees, you can contact the state department of records or registrar. The contact information is found online.

If you’re not a party to the divorce proceedings, you will not be able to get the decree records unless you provide a signed affidavit, letter, or notice from one of the parties, or a notarized letter.


If you‘re still unable to get a copy of the decree, you can contact the attorney who represented you in the divorce action. In compliance with state laws and regulations, attorneys keep closed case files for several years.

If your attorney does not have the records, you can contact the attorney of your ex-spouse. You‘ll require a written permission from your ex-spouse to contact their attorney and get a copy of the divorce decree.

Online Sources

If you’re unable to track down your divorce decree, you can search for a copy online. Online databases and search engines will be able to track the decree. These sites charge a fee to view and print a copy of the document.

There are many jurisdictions that limit access to public records. They may prohibit you from viewing the document unless you’re a party to the divorce or an attorney representing one of the parties.

The Process to Appeal a Divorce Decree

A divorce decree can be modified in the future through an appeals process, if it meets certain circumstances. A judge is required to finalize any changes made to the divorce decree. Any party to the divorce can appeal the decree, so long as it’s not prohibited by any state statute. Both parties can also choose to appeal at the same time.

The party requesting the appeal should have valid reasons to do so. The burden of proof is on the party making the appeal.

Valid Reasons for an Appeal

The most common ground for making an appeal is a mistake of law committed by the judge or lower court. The party filing the appeal should prove that the judge made a mistake in interpreting or applying the law. This means you cannot challenge facts that were established during the divorce proceedings.

The other grounds on which an appeal can be made include:

  • Concealment of important information or assets by the opposing party.
  • Fraud committed by the opposing party in connection with the divorce proceedings.
  • Discovery of new facts that were not available during the original court proceedings.

Different Types of Appeals

  • Appeal – You can file an appeal within 30 days from the date of the final judgment. Appeals should be based on errors in law.
  • Motion for Rehearing – This motion should be filed immediately after the judgment. Parties don’t have an absolute right for a rehearing. The request should be granted by the judge.
  • Motion for Relief from Judgment – This motion has a longer deadline for filing but is granted only in certain circumstances such as fraud or concealed assets.

The appeal procedures are associated with strict deadlines. In most cases, you should appeal within 10 days from the date of the final judgment.

Length of an Appeal Process

As each divorce case is different, the appeal process can take one to two years. This is especially true if the case is sent back to the lower court to consider the issues again.

The Process to Modify a Divorce Decree

Making an appeal is different from modifying a divorce decree. When you choose to modify the decree, only a portion of the ruling is modified.

Modification often leaves the court order intact, amending only the details. The modification is usually sought by the parties on issues related to custody and support.

Change of Circumstances

The party seeking to modify the divorce decree should show a substantial change of circumstances.
The circumstances can include:

  • Relocation to another state
  • Change in income
  • Problems relating to the care of minor children
  • Changes in parenting or life status
  • Other situations that pertain to well-being of the children, which may call into question previous custody agreements

For example, a spouse who is responsible for making monthly child-support payments and takes a lower-paying job may be able to appeal the decision about the specific monthly obligation that is owed. Likewise, a higher-paying job may indicate that a greater percentage of the pay should be allocated toward child support or alimony.

Even though divorce terms are binding, it’s possible to get them modified. A modification of the court order can be pursued any time after the last order.

After a reasonable amount of time has passed, all issues pertaining to children (custodial or financial) are subject to modification. The burden of proof is on the party making an appeal for modification of the court order.

Things to Do After Receiving the Divorce Decree

After you receive the divorce decree, you should do several things.

Read the Court Order

You’ll be surprised to know that most people who are part of a divorce action don’t bother reading the final decree. They assume they know what is there in the decree and make the mistake of not reviewing it.

Read the copy of the decree so you’re familiar with the contents. Reading the order will also enable you to ascertain if there are any mistakes. If you see any mistakes, you should notify the attorney so they can correct them.

Make a list of obligations when reading the decree. You should also make a note of the deadlines by which the obligations should be addressed.

Follow Through on the Obligations

Make a list of tasks that should be completed after reading the decree. After you have made a list of things to be done, address them promptly. This ensures your compliance with the divorce agreement.

It’s advisable to make a list of your spouse’s obligations, too. If they fail to complete the tasks by the deadline, you can follow up with them immediately.

Update Necessary Documents

The necessary documents that should be updated include:

  • Living will
  • Power of attorney
  • Emergency contact information
  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Credit cards and loan accounts
  • Tax withholdings

Take Time for Yourself and Family

Divorce proceedings are life-changing events. They can be disruptive and stressful. Take time for yourself and reconnect with family and friends.

If children are involved, you should pay extra attention to them. Spend time with them and pay attention to their needs. Remember that it’ll take time and effort to get back to a normal life after the divorce proceedings.

Get Help from a Divorce Attorney

Divorce proceedings can be complicated. A good divorce attorney will guide you through the entire process. This will ensure that nothing is overlooked before the final decree is issued.


Understanding just what to expect from your official divorce decree is an important aspect of taking charge of your newly single life. You should know exactly what implications the document has in terms of your financial arrangements and relational arrangements (if children are involved). The divorce decree officially marks the end of your marriage, but it also places you on the path to independence.

If you want to obtain, appeal, or modify the divorce decree, you can contact a divorce lawyer for advice and support. An experienced attorney will help you avoid mistakes and delays in getting the divorce decree. Contact an attorney today so you can get all the paperwork completed and obtain your divorce decree with minimal hassle.

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