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A divorce decree is a formal court order which dissolves a marriage; in addition to dissolving a marriage, most divorce decrees include determinations for a variety of couple and family related issues. The following is an essential guide to divorce decrees, what they typically cover, and how (and when) they can be modified.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce decree is an official, formal court order which dissolves a marriage; divorce decrees typically cover various elements of the divorce, such as spousal support, property division, custody and so on. A divorce decree can be created in several ways, with the most common ways being a divorcing couple creating a decree through mediation and a family court issuing a judgement decree. A decree is not official until a judge signs and dates the decree order.
What facets does a divorce decree cover?
A divorce decree can cover a wide range of facets. However, the most common areas of a divorce that a divorce decree will cover are:
- Alimony/spousal support
- Child custody and/or parenting time
- Division of property
- Child support
In addition to these common areas, many couples choose to include more specific considerations such as:
- Dividing credit card or similar shared debt
- Agreeing on car insurance for children when they reach driving age
- Determining which expenses are covered by child support (such as clothing, birthday gifts, dance classes, etc)
- Misc non-covered health expenses such as braces
- College tuition
Can a divorce decree be modified?
Yes, a divorce decree can usually be modified. Divorce decrees can either be modified through the mutual agreement of both parties; or they can be modified if the parties are in conflict and the modification must be challenged in court. In cases where a mutual agreement is reached, the decree is typically modified during a meditation session which can then be presented to a judge.
However, there may be some limitations as to what can be modified in the degree depending on the state. People interested in changing their divorce decree should consult with an attorney, even if they have reached a mutual agreement, to ensure everything is done legally.
When should a divorce decree be modified?
A divorce decree should be modified if there are significant lifestyle changes that create a stark difference in the original agreements laid out in the divorce decree. Not changing the divorce decree could result in negative consequences for either divorce party or even the child(ren) in the future.
For example: Let’s say the original divorce decree designates one parent the custodial parent and one the noncustodial parent. After a while, the custodial parent decides to move closer to the noncustodial parent, and they arrange an informal joint custody for 3 years. If they do not get this changed in the divorce decree, the custodial parent could decide to move across the country and the noncustodial parent could not do anything to stop it. If they had gotten their decree modified, they could have arranged for formal joint custody, which would have prevented the custodial parent from simply moving.