What is a Divorce Decree?

divorce-decree-signature

When it comes to filing your paperwork at the end of your divorce, it is 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. In particular, a divorce decree (which marks the official end of the marriage) is one of the most significant documents that you will obtain. All parties should understand what it does, what items it includes, and even how it can be modified.

If you have a few lingering questions regarding what a divorce decree actually is, you are definitely not alone. These frequently asked questions should help clarify your thoughts:

What is a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree is an official court document containing the final settlement and agreement for your divorce. In order to officially end the marriage, this paper must be signed by a judge, then filed with the court clerk. Your divorce decree cannot be enforced or finalized until this paper is filed with the courts.

The decree by itself typically includes all of the necessary areas of your marital life, which now need to be separated. It is the official answer to questions that pertain to your finances, benefits, property, and childcare or custody arrangements.

What is Included in the Divorce Decree?

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 that they need to jointly address and separate into an equitable settlement. However, first and foremost, 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.

Most married couples are anxious to receive a divorce decree, which settles the financial aspect of their split. This 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 your property, real estate, and assets (including retirement accounts, savings accounts, and other finances) between the two of you. It is responsible for establishing all of the financial implications of your divorce.

The decree is designed to give clear expectations about the rights and responsibilities for both spouses. Beyond the financial responsibilities already covered, it also includes details for child support and alimony, if applicable. Custody arrangements for any children involved are also typically included in the divorce decree.

Can You Change a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree can potentially be modified in the future through an appeals process, but only under very specific circumstances. For example, this decree may be changed by a judge if it is found to contain errors in the law. It cannot be altered to revise facts contained within the document that pertain to errors in hearsay. However, if something was divided between the two spouses that was not in accordance with state laws, the divorce decree could potentially be modified.

It may also be altered to reflect changes in income or other financial situations that could affect the payment of child support or alimony. 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.

Custody arrangements may also be changed based on the evolving needs of the children. Older children may have a preference about which parent has full custody of them, so a divorce decree could also be modified to reflect:

  • Changes in parenting or life status
  • Any potential moves that either spouse makes
  • Other situations that pertain to the wellbeing of the children, which may call into question previous custody agreements

Covering the Basics

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.

Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA is the host of the “Divorce and Your Money Show” and Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, with offices in Dallas, New York and Hanover, New Hampshire.

 

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Shawn Leamon, MBA, CDFA

Dallas, Texas

Shawn C. H. Leamon is Managing Partner of LaGrande Global, a firm that helps successful families manage large financial transitions like divorce, inheritance and selling a business.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College, double majoring in Economics and Philosophy, and his Masters in Business Administration at Spain’s IE Business School.

Before founding LaGrande Global, Shawn helped manage $1.1 billion in client assets at Bernstein Global Wealth Management. He also worked as a credit research analyst at J.P. Morgan. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and he has been an advisor to numerous high-stakes divorce cases.

Shawn is the author of two well-received finance books: Managing Private Wealth: Principles, and Divorce and Your Money: The No-Nonsense Guide, both published in 2016.

In his spare time, Shawn is an ultra-endurance athlete and has competed in events as long as 24 hours. He is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Alumni Board of Greenhill School.