What Is a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree contains important details about the terms of your divorce, and can be used as proof of your divorce.

A divorce decree—known as a "judgment of dissolution," "JOD," or "divorce judgment" in some states—is a document that marks the legal end of your marriage. A court issues it when your divorce is final.

What's in a Divorce Decree

A divorce decree doesn't just serve as proof of the end of your marriage. It also contains the terms of your divorce regarding issues such as child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support (alimony), and division of marital property and debt. Because a divorce decree is a court order, both ex-spouses are bound by its terms, and both can enforce it.

Additionally, if you've opted to revert to a former name, you can usually do that as part of your divorce. When a judge grants your request to go back to your former name, the divorce decree will include the court's order regarding the name change, and can be used as proof that you've legally changed your name.

There's no standard form for a divorce decree (although some states, such as California and New York, have fill-in-the-blank forms you can tailor), but most include:

  • each spouse's identifying information, including names, addresses, and birth dates
  • identifying information for any minor children (and sometimes adult children, if relevant)
  • the court's address and telephone number
  • information about any attorneys involved in the case
  • the case number
  • the official end date of the marriage
  • the judge's name
  • a statement changing one of the spouse's last names (if requested as part of the divorce), and
  • a declaration that the divorce is final.

Many decrees also include specific orders about:

The decree will be signed by both spouses and their attorneys (if any), as well as the judge. In many courts, the court clerk will stamp the final document with an official court seal.

Your divorce decree is valid once a judge signs it. When the divorce is finished, it's a good idea to head over to the family court clerk's office to get a certified copy which has the court's seal affixed to it. (Many places require a certified copy as proof of divorce.)

How to Get a Copy of Your Divorce Decree

If you didn't get a certified copy of your divorce decree at the end of the divorce, you usually can request one from the court clerk's office in the county where the divorce took place. Some courts allow you to request a certified copy online, while others require you to submit a request in writing. Nearly all courts will charge a fee for a copy of your decree.

In some states, you can get a copy of your divorce decree from the office that keeps track of vital records (such as the health department or office of vital records). However, most vital records offices provide only copies of divorce certificates—not divorce decrees.

What Is a Divorce Certificate?

A divorce certificate is another document that you can use to show proof of your divorce. It's a bare-bones document that normally includes only the:

  • names of the spouses
  • name of the judge
  • name and location of the court that granted the divorce, and
  • date the divorce was finalized.

Because a divorce certificate is issued by the state, you can use it in most situations where you need to provide proof of divorce but don't want to reveal the details of the divorce that are often included in a divorce decree.

How to Get a Copy of Your Divorce Certificate

The procedures for obtaining a copy of a divorce certificate vary by state. In most states, you can get (for a fee) a copy from the office that keeps track of vital records in your state (such as the health department or office of vital records).

Some states restrict access to divorce decrees or certificates to the spouses and their attorneys. If that's the case where you live, you will probably have to submit a form of government-issued identification (such as a driver's license or a passport) to obtain a copy.

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