What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like? How Final Decree Works

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Background Checks | October 24, 2022

Judge striking his gavel in front of an officially sealed final divorce decree document while a woman with her hands on her hips stands in front of a man with his hand on his hip and his other one on this forehead, wondering what does a divorce decree look like in all fifty states.

What does a divorce decree look like? The legal terms regarding divorce in the United States vary by state, and it can be confusing to know how some divorce decrees and certificates work in each state.

But, learning how a final divorce decree works is essential, especially if child custody, property division, and child support are involved.

Divorce is a very hectic process, and a party not aware of their rights or how the systems work might end up bearing the short end of it.

This complete guide explains exactly what does a divorce decree look like and how a final decree works.

Divorce Decree Definition

A divorce decree refers to an order by the court that officially terminates a marriage. In some states, a divorce decree is called a divorce judgment or judgment of dissolution. The purpose of a divorce decree is to lay out the court’s final orders on the subject of major issues of divorce. These include but are not limited to:

  • Support
  • Child custody
  • Property Division

A divorce decree binds both parties to the terms set by the judge. The judge will decide after listening to testimonies and looking into the evidence from both parties. Once the judge signs the document, the divorce is final.

Divorce Decree vs Divorce Certificate

There is a difference between a divorce decree and a divorce certificate. Divorce decrees vary on a case-by-case basis because the issues encountered in every divorce are different. For example, suppose the parties involved decide to participate in divorce mediation or settle their case in other ways.

In that case, the court will include the marital settlement agreement in the divorce decree.

Each state sets its own standard for a divorce decree. For example, California and New York divorce decrees are fill-in-the-blank forms tailored to suit individual cases. Additionally, some courts incorporate the settlement agreement terms into the decree, whereas others prefer to attach the agreement as a document on its own and reference it in the decree.

Screenshot of New York Courts website page for obtaining certified copies of documents with yellow arrow pointing on a link that leads to how to obtain a copy of divorce decree & exemplifications in Kings County, New York.

New York Court Clerks provide ways to obtain vital records, including divorce decrees, business certifications and other court documents.

In most states, divorce decrees will include:

  • The Identifying information of each spouse, such as birthdates, addresses, and names
  • Minor Children’s identifying information (Sometimes adult children if it’s relevant to the case)
  • The address and telephone number of the court
  • Attorney information
  • Case number
  • The marriage’s official end date (The date the final decree was issued)
  • The name of the judge
  • A statement with a change of spouse’s last name (If one of the spouses requests it as part of the divorce)
  • A declaration of the finality of the divorce

The decree might also include specific instructions with regard to:

  1. Allocation of debt and property
  2. Parenting time and child custody
  3. Child support
  4. Alimony (maintenance or spousal support)
  5. Division of retirement account
  6. Other case-related issues

Once the judge agrees on all the terms and conditions for the divorce, for the final divorce decree to be complete, each spouse and any attorney involved must sign it and include the date they signed.1 After this, the judge will sign the decree, and in some courts, the clerk of the court will add a stamp to the final document, which will include an official seal of the court.

Related Reading: How to Find Out If Someone Is Divorced for Free Online in 60 Seconds

Are Divorce Decrees Public Records?

Yes. Divorce decrees are available to the public, and once the divorce is finalized, anyone can request a copy. Anyone who wishes to keep their information private should consider creating a marital settlement agreement which in some courts will not be part of public divorce records. In this case, the settlement agreement will only be used as a reference in the official divorce decree with a simple order for both spouses to follow the terms.

Alternatively, the parties involved have the right to request the court to seal the records. Sealing a divorce record will remove it from public records or protect any sensitive information that a divorce decree contains. A judge will be open to sealing any documents related to the parties’ health, financial status, or records containing information about children.

Related Reading: How to Find Divorce Records Online for Free (3 Easy Steps)

What Is a Divorce Certificate?

On the other hand, a divorce certificate is not a court document; rather, it is issued by the state, and its primary purpose is record-keeping. This document has very few details and may include:

  • The names of the parties involved
  • Where and when the divorce was issued
  • Name of judge
  • Date of the finalization of the divorce

A Divorce certificate will not have most personal details such as those found in a divorce decree. This certificate has similar functions to a marriage and birth certificate on the occasion that a party needs to prove that they divorced someone.

In most cases, a divorce decree is the required proof when someone wants to change something after a divorce. For example, if someone wants to change the details of their social security or driver’s license after a divorce, they will be asked to show up with a part of the divorce decree so that the party has the authorization to change their name.

Even though most public institutions accept divorce certificates as proof of divorce, the name change order may not appear in a certificate but will be available in a divorce decree. Even so, if the interested party only needs to provide proof of divorce, then obtaining a marriage certificate is sufficient.

What Does a Final Divorce Decree Look Like?

Anyone who has gone through a divorce can attest that it’s a long and arduous process. There are several forms that an interested party needs to provide to finalize their divorce, and they keep changing depending on how the case proceeds.2

The spouses are solely responsible for preparing the divorce decree to complete the case. The judge will grant the final divorce decree in three ways:

By default: this occurs when the defendant does not file paperwork within 21 days after getting served with a divorce complaint and summons. In this case, the plaintiff will request the judge to grant a final divorce after entering a default. If this occurs, then the plaintiff will receive everything they asked for in the complaint in the final decree.

By agreement: if the two spouses agree on all divorce terms after filing the case, then they can prepare a final divorce decree and include their complete agreement. The defendant is required to find an answer and pay a filing fee. Finally, the two parties will sign a divorce decree and submit it to the judge, who can approve it without a hearing.

Granted at hearing or trial: in this case, the judge grants divorce at hearing or trial and decides on all the final orders. The divorce will be final once the judge signs the decree of divorce.

Most states use a general standard on final decree for divorce petitions.4 Each form must be filled out by the spouses advisably with a lawyer present and then submitted to the judge for reviewing and making the final decree.

Here is an example of a divorce decree from Pennsylvania:

Screenshot of The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website page for divorce proceedings showing instructions in Pennsylvania Divorce Decree Form 13.

Form 13 Divorce decree form, with instructions, is common for most states.

Screenshot of The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website page for divorce proceedings showing the first page of Pennsylvania Divorce Decree Form 13.

Each divorce decree form includes the names of the couple (defendant and plaintiff), and also includes the official date of the decree, signed by the court.

 

What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in California? (What Does a California Divorce Decree Look Like?)

If an interested party wants a copy of a divorce decree in California, the best way to get it is through the County Superior Court in the region where the divorce was granted. The Court Clerk or the records office in that location will issue the party an official copy of an entire divorce decree as well as other related documents.

Most county courts will need the parties to provide written request records either by mail or in person, although this will vary according to the requirements of each office. The information required includes but is not limited to:

  • The year of the divorce
  • Names of the two parties
  • The number of the court case

The party can obtain the case number through the court’s online search database or from the court personnel when they visit the office. To obtain a decree of divorce, a California resident needs to file several divorce forms,6 including:

  • Forms to start separation or divorce
  • Forms to respond to divorce or separation
  • Forms to share financial information (Disclosure)

What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in NY?

If an interested party wants to file for divorce in New York, they must go through the New York Courts Websites, which also provide guidelines for the divorce process. The forms are also available on these websites. Here is a sample of a divorce decree in New York.8

The interested party has various options when filing for divorce:

  • Traditional route: In this case, the party will request the services of an attorney right from the start
  • Online divorce service: many third-party websites offer services that walk a person through the divorce process. The parties will provide and file the forms on your behalf. However, these websites only handle uncontested divorces.
  • Self-filing: in this case, the interested party will sign the divorce independently. They will access the divorce forms through the New York Courts Websites.7 Anyone taking this route needs to know the requirements beforehand, such as where to file the case and the steps to take.

What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in PA?

An interested party can obtain a certified copy of a divorce decree through the Judicial Records Office either in person or via mail. The fee to get a certified copy is $41.58. Anyone wanting to file for divorce should file a complaint with the Office of Judicial Support, and if they are self-representing, they must file an Entry of Appearance form.5

Once the party has filed a complaint, the District Court Administrator’s Office randomly assigns the case to a judge, and the divorce process begins.

What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in State?

Each state follows a common standard regarding divorce decree petition forms. All the forms should include the necessary information, including the names of spouses, division of debts and assets, custody agreements, etc.

What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in State?Location
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Alabama?Final Judgment of Divorce Alabama
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Alaska?Divorce Decree Alaska
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Arizona?Dissolution of Marriage Arizona
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Arkansas?Divorce Decree Arkansas
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in California?California Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Colorado?Colorado Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Connecticut?Connecticut Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Delaware?Delaware Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Florida?Florida Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Georgia?Georgia Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Hawaii?Hawaii Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Idaho?Idaho Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Illinois?Illinois Dissolution of Marriage
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Indiana?Decree for Dissolution of Marriage
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Iowa?Decree for Dissolution of Marriage With Children
Decree for Dissolution of Marriage Without Minors
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Kansas?Decree of Divorce Kansas
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Kentucky?Divorce Decree Kentucky
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Louisiana?Divorce Decree Louisiana
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Maine?Divorce Decree Maine
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Maryland?Divorce Decree Maryland
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Massachusetts?Divorce Decree Massachusetts
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Michigan?Obtaining a Certified Divorce Decree in Michigan
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Minnesota?Divorce Decree Minnesota
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Mississippi?Divorce Decree Mississippi
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Missouri?Decree for Dissolution of Marriage Missouri
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Montana?Dissolution Decree Montana
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Nebraska?Decree of Dissolution of Marriage With Children Nebraska
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Nevada?Decree of Divorce Nevada
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in New Hampshire?Divorce Decree New Hampshire
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in New Jersey?New Jersey Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in New Mexico?Decree of Dissolution of Marriage New Mexico
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in New York?Divorce Decree New York
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in North Carolina?Divorce Decree North Carolina
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in North Dakota?Divorce Decree North Dakota
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Ohio?Divorce Decree Ohio
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Oklahoma?Divorce Decree Oklahoma
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Oregon?Divorce Decree Oregon
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Pennsylvania?Divorce Decree Pennsylvania
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Rhode Island?Divorce Decree Rhode Island
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in South Carolina?Divorce Decree South Carolina
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in South Dakota?Divorce Decree South Dakota
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Tennessee?Final Divorce Decree Tennessee
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Texas?Texas Divorce Decree
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Utah?Divorce Decree Utah
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Vermont?Divorce Decree Vermont
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Virginia?Final Decree Virginia
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Washington?Divorce Decree Washington
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in West Virginia?Divorce Decree West Virginia
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Wisconsin?Divorce Decree Wisconsin
What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like in Wyoming?Divorce Decree Wyoming

Divorce Decree Copy (What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like?)

A divorce decree aims to finalize a divorce. However, a copy of a divorce decree can be used for several purposes; they include but are not limited to:

The steps to follow after divorce: the divorce decree will require each party to follow through on the orders highlighted. For example, a decree will require one party to refinance their vehicle name within a limited time after the divorce. If a party faces problems meeting the requirements, they must contact the court for guidance.

Screenshot of VitalChek website page for New York vital records with yellow arrows pointing to New York divorce records request.

The VitalCheck system can be used to obtain official documents including marriage and birth certificates and divorce certificates online.

An enforcement tool: a divorce decree is enforceable, and when one party does not comply, especially on a time-sensitive matter, the other party can ask the court to enforce it.

Proof of divorce: A party may need proof of divorce for one reason or another once the divorce is finalized. For example, to update a vehicle title, close a joint account, update estate planning documents or revise life insurance terms, all these may need proof of divorce.

Reference document: This document helps both parties when they disagree on issues such as alimony, parenting time, custody, and child support.

Where Can I Get a Certified Copy of Divorce Decree?

If two spouses get divorced in the United States, they can quickly get their divorce decree from the county clerk’s office in the court where the divorce was issued. The interested party needs to obtain the location and name of the clerk’s office, which can be found in the original court order or their divorce.

Alternatively, the interested party can obtain an official copy of a divorce decree through the office of vital statistics, vital records, or the registrar where the divorce was filed. The name and location of the nearest vital records office can be obtained by reviewing the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).9

What Happens After Judge Signs Divorce Decree?

The judge must sign the final decree of divorce for the case to be over. Until the judge signs the case, the divorce is not complete.3 It’s the responsibility of the two parties and their lawyers to present a decree of divorce before the judge for it to be signed.

In an uncontested divorce, the attorneys prepare a final degree which will be presented to the judge, who more often than not will sign the document directly. However, the judge might request adjustments in some areas of the divorce, in which case the decree will need to be redrafted.

Screenshot of Texas State Library website page for divorce with yellow arrows to information divorce proceedings in Texas.

The Texas State law library offers information about Texas divorce decrees and finalization processes.

In a contested divorce, the judge will prepare the final decree and hand it over to the attorneys. In some cases, the judge will look at the testimonies and evidence provided and then give a ruling after a trial. Once the judge has signed the divorce decree, a party can appeal or ask the judge to make changes within the first thirty days. If there is no appeal, then the divorce will be final.

How Long Does It Take for a Judge To Sign a Divorce Decree in State?

The time it takes for a judge to sign a divorce varies from state to state. Here is a table that indicates the time a judge has to finalize a divorce hearing.

How Long Does It Take for a Judge To Sign a Divorce Decree in State?Time
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Alabama?About 6-10 weeks
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Alaska?30 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Arizona?90 to 120 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Arkansas?More than 30 days
About 45-60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in California?Six months after filing a divorce petition
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Colorado?6-9 months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Connecticut?More than four months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Delaware?30 to 90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Florida?3 to 4 months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Georgia?Six months to one year
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Hawaii?Sit to ten weeks
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Idaho?30 to 90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Illinois?60 days although the judge can request 30 days if needed
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Indiana?60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Iowa?90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Kansas?60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Kentucky?60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Louisiana?Two weeks to 6 months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Maine?60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Maryland?2 to 3 months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Massachusetts?90 to 120 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Michigan?Six to 12 weeks
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Minnesota?30 to 60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Mississippi?60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Missouri?6-12 months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Montana?21 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Nebraska?30 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Nevada?Uncontested 1-6 weeks
Contested four months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in New Hampshire?30 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in New Jersey?Three months to 1 year
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in New Mexico?Two to six months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in New York?From 3 weeks to 10 months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in North Carolina?45 to 90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in North Dakota?180 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Ohio?90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Oklahoma?Ten days in uncontested divorce without children
90 days for other divorces
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Oregon?Under a month with no children
One to 3 months with children
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Pennsylvania?90 days to 12 months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Rhode Island?75 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in South Carolina?90 days to well over a year
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in South Dakota?30-90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Tennessee?60- 90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Texas?60 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Utah?30 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Vermont?Six months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Virginia?One to two months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Washington?90 days
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in West Virginia?One to three months
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Wisconsin?Between 6 months and a year
How Long Does It Take for a Judge to Sign a Divorce Decree in Wyoming?20 days

In summary, a divorce decree is a document that contains all the conditions of the divorce such as wealth and debt distribution, child support, and maintenance. It is also proof that the marriage is over.

Knowing the answer to, what does a divorce decree look like, can help individuals who need to obtain this document for legal reasons.

Frequently Asked Questions About What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like

What Happens After Judge Signs Divorce Decree?

Once the judge signs the decree and the decree is uncontested for thirty days, the divorce is final.

When Does a Divorce Decree Expire?

A decree does not expire.

Once Divorce Papers Are Signed, Can They Be Changed?

An interested party is free to renegotiate any point of the divorce within 30 days after the judge has signed the divorce decree. After this timeline, the party can still renegotiate though it will be difficult. The party can request to change some items of the divorce when they have a tangible reason.

Does a Divorce Decree Have To Be Signed?

Yes. A divorce decree has to be signed by both spouses and the judge; otherwise, you will remain married.

Who Fills Out the Final Decree of Divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, the spouses or their lawyers fill out the final divorce decree and present it to the judge to sign. In a contested divorce, the final divorce decree will be filled out by the judge.


References

1Morgan, L. W. (2018). Preserving Practical Obscurity in Divorce Records in the Age of E-Filing and Online Access. J. Am. Acad. Matrimonial Law., 31, 405. <https://www.aaml.org/wp-content/uploads/MAT202_1.pdf>

2Reynolds, L., & Profile, T. F. (2020). Divorce rate in the US: Geographic variation, 2019. Family Profiles, FP-20, 25. <https://www.bgsu.edu/ncfmr/resources/data/family-profiles/reynolds-divorce-rate-geographic-variation-2019-fp-20-25.html>

3Dziadula, E. (2022). Match quality and divorce among naturalized US citizens. Southern Economic Journal, 89(1), 37-61.   <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/soej.12583>

4Courts NH Gov. (2022). Final Decree on Petition for Divorce. The State of New Hampshire Judicial Branch. Retrieved 10 11, 2022, from <https://www.courts.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt471/files/documents/2021-04/nhjb-2071-f.pdf>

5Delcopa Gov. (2022). Entry of Appearance as a Self Represeted Party. Entry of Appearance Self Represented Party. Retrieved 10 11, 2022, from <https://delcopa.gov/ojs/ojsforms/EntryofAppearanceSelfRepresentedParty.pdf>

6Judicial Branch of California. (2022). Divorce Forms. California Courts Self-Help Guide. Retrieved 10 11, 2022, from <https://selfhelp.courts.ca.gov/divorce-forms>

7NY Courts. (2022). Divorce Decree in New York. Ny Courts Gov. Retrieved 10 11, 2022, from <https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/divorce/forms_instructions/ud-11.pdf>

8NY Courts. (2022). Uncontested Divorce Forms. New York State Unified Court System. Retrieved 10 11, 2022, from <https://ww2.nycourts.gov/divorce/divorce_withchildrenunder21.shtml>

9U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2022). Where to Write for Vital Records. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 10 11, 2022, from <https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w/index.htm/>

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