What Is the Difference Between a Divorce Decree & Divorce Certificate?

By Christina Lee
Know the difference between the divorce certificate and decree.

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The U.S. Surgeon General's office reports that divorce is one of the most common causes of depression and anxiety. Parsing legal information can be a source of additional stress. It's not easy to keep up with legal documents when going through a difficult time. Unless you are an attorney who practices family law, it is unlikely that you have expertise in divorce law. To minimize stress, learn the distinctions between legal documents.

Divorce Certificate

The divorce certificate is a simple and straightforward document. It includes only the names of both divorcing parties, the date and information about where the divorce took place. The state's Bureau of Vital Statistics or Department of Health issues this certificate. It serves as proof of your divorce, so make sure to request a copy from the appropriate state government agency after your divorce takes place.

Divorce Decree

The divorce decree is issued by the court. It outlines each party's rights and responsibilities regarding children, property and finances. If you hire an attorney, her main responsibility lies in obtaining the best possible decree for you. If you settle, the decree contains terms that you and your ex-spouse agree upon. If the case goes to trial, a judge decides its contents, and the clerk of court signs it. Request a copy from the court.

Components of a Divorce Decree

The divorce decree delineates division of property and sets up alimony payments. It details who is responsible for debts and separates joint insurance plans. If applicable, it specifies child custody and visitation terms as well as child support payments. It also allows a woman to revert to her maiden name if desired. Finally, it includes a consent form and release that limits obligations between you and your ex-spouse to those included in the divorce decree.

Divorce Decree Tips

If you negotiate a settlement, make sure the decree contains as many details as possible to protect yourself, particularly regarding finances. Although the divorce decree is legally binding, it does not bind crediting agencies. This means that you are responsible for repaying credit on joint accounts. Your divorce decree may ensure that your ex-spouse will cover a particular credit account in full; however, if he fails to do so your credit score still goes down.

About the Author

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.

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