What is a divorce decree?

Posted on Apr 16, 2021 by Katie Carter


As you educate yourself about the divorce process and what’s involved, you’ve probably come up close and personal to words – or, at least, combinations of words – that you’ve never seen together before. And though you understand the words themselves, knowing exactly what they mean or what their function is as it relates to your divorce is not always super easy.

I’ve been practicing now for nearly a decade, but I can still remember how overwhelming it was to me when it was all new. I think that the difficulty there, in understanding and applying to your own situation, is compounded for a person actually going through a divorce, too. It’s a period of crisis. It’s overwhelming and scary. And feeling like that makes retaining new information, especially fairly complicated information, difficult.

I’ve worked hard, in these articles, to break down important concepts of divorce and explain them, as clearly as I am able. I definitely encourage you, though, in addition to reading the articles in our library, to request a free copy of our divorce book (or our military divorce book, if you or your husband are active duty or retired military) and even consider our monthly divorce seminar if you have additional questions.

What is a divorce decree?

Today, I’m writing about the divorce decree. It’s the most important document, in most divorce cases, it’s the document that actually divorces you.

It’s a pleading – meaning, a document filed with the court that reflects the procedural history of a case – that formally divorces the parties.

It also explains the terms of that divorce.

What is in a final divorce decree?

The divorce decree – or final divorce decree, or FDD, as we often abbreviate it – reiterates all of the statutory requirements for divorce. In most cases, it also sets forth exactly how all of the assets and liabilities of the marriage are going to be divided. If there is a separation agreement, it references that separation agreement. In most cases, it also includes the more specific provisions verbatim from that agreement – including support, retirement, and child custody.

That way, it’s easy to see, at a glance, what is ordered in your case. Some of the other provision of the agreement – like the personal property, the bank accounts, and even the real estate – are only addressed inasmuch as the final decree says that equitable distribution is handled in the written agreement, which is attached and made part of the record.

The agreement, as well as the final decree of divorce, both become orders of the court, and are enforceable in the same way as an order from the court – as in, given by a judge in an open courtroom during a live hearing – is. There’s no actual difference.

So, if one or the other of you doesn’t follow that order, you are subject to a show cause, and any sanctions imposed by the court.

It’s an important stage! It gets you divorced, and it sets up the requirements of your divorce – based on whatever the court ordered, whatever you agreed to in your written separation agreement, and whatever is reflected there in black and white on that final decree.

How do I get a final decree entered?

The final decree is the last stage of the divorce. It comes after a complaint is filed and served on the opposing party, after they’ve responded, after negotiations, after (in some cases) actual litigation and an ultimate divorce trial.

In an uncontested divorce, it’s part of the final divorce packet to the court. In a contested divorce, it’s often presented to the judge at the final trial. In either case, it’s the end of the road, and one of the last pieces of the puzzle (excepting maybe QDROs and/or name change orders or that kind of thing which can be submitted after the divorce is granted).

A final decree is an important document! For more information about final decrees, or uncontested divorces, or how to finalize your divorce, give our office a call at 757-425-5200. We can help you finish your divorce.