What is a Final Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree is the final document that officially ends the marriage. It is a formal declaration that contains important guidelines for how the divorced couple is going to manage their affairs going forward. The divorce decree covers property division, child custody, and alimony terms, among other matters. For a spouse involved in the process of getting a divorce, a knowledgeable divorce lawyer can provide valuable assistance.

What are the Functions of a Divorce Decree?

The divorce decree, sometimes called a divorce judgment or judgment for dissolution of marriage, contains three main elements:

  • Identifies the parties involved, including both spouses and children from the marriage
  • Verifies the divorce complies with state law; notes how parties were served, spouses’ ages, separation period, and type of divorce
  • Mandates property division and other terms, such as spousal support, visitation, and child custody

What is the Process of a Divorce Decree?

Some couples decide on the divorce terms through mediation. Mediation is a negotiation process in which both spouses and their divorce lawyers discuss custody, support, asset division, and all the other details that need to be settled. Ex-spouses who cannot agree defer to the courts to decide divorce terms. Regardless of the process to get there, the result is always the final divorce decree issued by the court.

What Should I Know Before Signing a Divorce Decree?

As previously mentioned, the divorce decree is an essential, legally binding document. Before signing the divorce decree, it is always a good idea to verify the details are accurate. Parties should review the document several times to catch errors and avoid modifications later. Ex-spouses should look for the following before they sign the divorce decree:

Inaccuracies. Misspellings or minor mistakes may not seem important now. However, when the time comes to refer to the divorce decree for whatever reason, every detail should be accurate; names, dates, and addresses need to be verified.

Vague language. Vague terminology leaves room for interpretation. When it comes to visitation, alimony, and other weighty matters, every detail should be clearly noted in straightforward language.

New or missing provisions. Both parties should be fully informed and prepared for what the divorce decree states. Whether the terms were developed through mediation or in court, at this end-stage of the divorce process, there should be no surprises. Once the terms are set and made official in court, nothing should be added or removed without an appeal or modification.

The average person is not expected to be versed in legalese and may find terminology in the divorce decree a bit confusing. A divorce lawyer will look for red flags while advocating for their client’s best interests at every stage of the divorce process.

What Should I Do After Receiving a Divorce Decree?

Once the divorce decree is signed and the court officially declares the marriage terminated, it is time to take care of practical details based on the change in marital status. The following steps should be taken after receiving the final divorce decree:

  • Cancel or change joint credit cards
  • Remove the ex-spouse from checking and savings accounts
  • Revise the beneficiaries on insurance policies
  • Rename a power of attorney and change the will accordingly
  • Update emergency contacts with physicians, employers, and children’s schools

Can I Appeal the Divorce Decree?

It is always best to voice concerns about the divorce decree before signing. With that said, divorce terms that are based on the family dynamic as it stands today may not be ideal or appropriate as family members grow and change. One or both ex-spouses might move, change jobs, or remarry. Major life events have an impact on how the family unit operates. To change the divorce decree, one can either appeal it or file a motion to modify it.

Appealing a divorce decree. After the divorce is final and the judgment has been entered, one or both spouses have the right to appeal the trial court judge’s ruling to a higher court. This usually occurs with litigated divorces, as it is presumed ex-spouses agree if they go to settlement.

If there was a serious mistake during the process, one party may choose to appeal the divorce decree. Perhaps a law was erroneously applied, or the judge committed an abuse of discretion. Every state has laws and procedures for filing a notice of appeal to the other side. After the notice is filed and served on the other party, the court reviews briefs and hears oral arguments from both sides. From there, the appellate court decides, either upholding the original decision or ordering a modification or a new trial.

Filing a motion to modify the divorce decree. Generally, divorce decree modifications are more common than appeals. The process starts when the ex-spouse who wants the revision files a motion to modify the divorce decree. In most cases, the motion is filed in the same court that issued the original divorce judgment. The motion to modify includes specific details and evidence to explain why a change in support, visitation, custody, or other matters is desired. Usually, a move, new job, or remarriage is the catalyst for a modification. The modification petition is then filed with the court and served to the ex-spouse. From there, both parties attend a hearing to present their case, and a ruling is made. Some ex-spouses agree in advance to make changes. If so, their lawyers get that agreement in writing and present it to the court. If both parties agree, the court may not require a hearing at all.

Is a Divorce Decree Different from a Divorce Certificate?

The divorce decree and divorce certificate are often confused, but they are completely different documents. Whereas the decree is a more detailed breakdown of the critical terms of the divorce, a divorce certificate contains much less information. The divorce certificate is simply a factual legal recording of the marriage termination. Usually, the local bureau of vital statistics issues a divorce certificate, much like they would a birth or death certificate. At a minimum, it states the following:

  • The names of the former spouses
  • The divorce location
  • The divorce date

Like a birth certificate, a divorce certificate is used for various legal and financial transactions. The divorce certificate might be necessary to remarry, get a passport, or change one’s name.

Where can I Obtain a Copy of My Divorce Decree?

After the decree is signed and entered into court records, both parties should receive copies from the court clerk and/or their respective divorce lawyers. If a copy gets misplaced, the ex-spouse should contact the local courthouse in the county where the divorce was recorded for a new copy. A lawyer should keep a copy on file as well. The ex-spouse needs to keep it in a safe place or consider giving a copy to a trusted family member or friend for safe-keeping. The divorce decree legally and symbolically represents the end of a marriage. It is an important document that every soon-to-be divorced person should read and review carefully with their counsel before signing. Modification is a way to revise the terms noted in the divorce decree to reflect life’s changes.

Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients with Divorce Decrees

If you have questions about your divorce decree and if modification is possible, speak with a Morristown divorce lawyer at Lyons & Associates, P.C. It is common for clients to request changes for support, visitation, and other divorce matters as their goals and needs change. We will manage the modification process and keep you updated every step of the way. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.