What does a divorce decree look like?

What does a divorce decree look like? Here’s what it means for your divorce process and how getting one works.

What's Inside

What's Inside

A divorce decree is an important legal document that serves as the official court order terminating a marital relationship. It sets forth the final terms of the divorce that both parties must abide by moving forward.

So, what does a divorce decree look like? The precise format may differ from state to state and case to case. However, this article gives a bit more detail. We describe what a final divorce decree looks like and where to find samples of such documents. We also explain why you need a divorce decree and how to obtain a certified copy.

What does a final divorce decree look like? 

There is no universal divorce decree example or template. The specific appearance and format of a final divorce decree may vary depending on the court that issues the decree and the complexity of the case. Still, a final divorce decree typically contains several key components. 

Below is an overview of the common terms and information included in this document to give you a better idea of what a divorce decree looks like. 

Case caption

The final divorce decree typically begins with what’s called the case caption. This includes identifying information about the case, including the following: 

  • Names of the parties
  • County and address of the court in which the case was filed
  • Case number
  • Judge’s name

The case caption appears at the top of the first page of the divorce decree. 

Information about the court hearing

Next, the divorce decree usually includes information about the final divorce hearing. 

At the hearing, the parties will have had an opportunity to either:

  • Present the terms of their divorce settlement to the judge 
  • Or to present their arguments regarding what they’re seeking in the divorce and have the judge decide the terms of their divorce

This section of the divorce decree typically addresses information such as: 

  • The date of the hearing (if one was held) 
  • Whether one or both parties attended the hearing
  • Whether either party was represented by legal counsel at the hearing

Findings of fact

Some final divorce decrees may also include a findings of fact section, which sets forth certain facts about the case that provide a basis or rationale for the judge to enter the final divorce decree. For example, this section will often confirm: 

  • Whether the divorce was contested or uncontested
  • That the court had proper jurisdiction over the parties
  • That the parties have met all procedural requirements for the divorce to be finalized
  • Statements resolving factual disputes the parties presented to the court

Orders of the court

Next, the divorce decree typically addresses all orders of the court related to the dissolution. Below are some common divorce decree example terms that are frequently included: 

  • The date the divorce decree is entered as a final order of the court
  • How property will be divided between the parties
  • Whether spousal support is awarded and in what amount
  • How custody and visitation of any children will be divided
  • The amount of any child support award
  • How the parties will divide child tax credits
  • Whether either party’s name will be restored to a prior name

Any other terms—whether they were agreed upon between the parties or disputed and addressed at the divorce hearing—are also addressed in this section of the final divorce decree. 

Signature of the judge

Lastly, the divorce decree is typically signed and dated by the judge presiding over the case. This signature is what formally makes the decree a final and legally binding order of the court.

In some jurisdictions, the judge’s signature may also be accompanied by an official court seal or certification to authenticate its validity.

Where to find a sample divorce decree

If you have questions about what a divorce decree looks like in your particular jurisdiction, you may be able to find a sample divorce decree on your local state court website. 

For example, California, Colorado and other states have self-help forms online for final divorce decrees and a variety of other documents that you may need throughout your divorce proceedings. These may be used as guides when navigating the process generally or as templates when preparing your own court filings. 

Why do I need a divorce decree?

Obtaining your final divorce decree is a crucial step in the divorce process. Below are just a few reasons why: 

  • It legally terminates the marital relationship between the parties.
  • It establishes the rights and obligations of each party following the divorce, addressing matters such as property division, spousal support and child custody.
  • It provides clarity and certainty by detailing the terms of the divorce in writing, helping to prevent misunderstandings and disputes in the future.
  • It serves as a binding order of the court, meaning that violation by one spouse may entitle the other to enforce the decree in court.

What is a certified copy of a divorce decree? 

A certified copy of a divorce decree is an official copy of the final divorce decree that has been authenticated or verified by the court. A certified copy is typically marked with an official certification, seal or stamp indicating that it’s a true and accurate reproduction of the original divorce decree on file with the court. 

Certified copies of a divorce decree may sometimes be necessary after the conclusion of your divorce for a variety of legal or administrative purposes such as: 

  • Updating government records
  • Retitling property in accordance with the terms of the divorce decree
  • Changing your legal name
  • Obtaining a marriage license to remarry in the future

To obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree, you may typically request a copy through the clerk of the court presiding over your case or through the vital records office in the state where your divorce was finalized. You may need to pay a small fee for the copy. 

How a lawyer can help

Obtaining the divorce decree is the final step in the process of formally terminating your marriage. However, you must complete many other critical steps before getting to this stage. 

As you navigate a divorce, you may want to consider working with someone who can help you achieve your goals and maximize your results. An experienced family law and divorce attorney can:

  • Gather financial and other information needed to support your claims
  • Negotiate the terms of your divorce with your spouse and their legal counsel
  • Prepare for and present arguments on your behalf at your final divorce hearing

Overall, professional legal assistance may go a long way toward obtaining a favorable outcome in your divorce decree.

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Frequently asked questions

How do I get a certified copy of my divorce decree?

Generally, obtaining a certified copy of your divorce decree requires contacting the court clerk for your case or the vital records office in the state where your divorce took place. From there, you may need to provide certain documentation to verify your identification and pay a fee before submitting your request for the divorce decree. Note, however, that the precise steps, necessary documentation, fees and processing timeframe may vary depending on your particular jurisdiction.

Are divorce decrees public record?

Yes, divorce decrees are typically considered public record. This means that the general population may be able to request and access copies of your divorce records. However, certain details—such as sensitive financial information or information about minor children—may be redacted to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. That said, be sure to check the laws and procedures of your state for more information on whether and to what extent your divorce decree may be made available to the public.

Who fills out the final decree of divorce?

In short, who fills out the final decree of divorce depends. For example, if the divorce is contested—meaning that the judge must decide on all disputed issues—the final decree of divorce may be written by the judge directly. Conversely, where a divorce is uncontested, the parties—either directly or with the assistance of legal counsel—may prepare the final decree based on the terms agreed between the parties. After, they typically submit the proposed decree to the court for review and approval, at which time the judge will sign it and enter it as a final order of the court.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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