While it may feel as if your marriage has been over for a long time, in the eyes of the law, you must have a divorce decree signed by a judge before the marriage is officially dissolved. This means you are still legally bound to your spouse, particularly when it comes to financial obligations and property ownership. Obtaining a divorce decree is a bittersweet moment for many, but it will be important that you understand what your decree should contain and what you can expect from it going forward.
Whether your method of divorce is mediation or trial, the result will be a list of decisions that may affect your life for months or years into the future. For this reason, it will be important that you read your decree carefully and obtain sound legal advice before signing it, no matter how quickly you want to put the matter behind you and move on with your life.
What’s in a decree?
Of course, every marriage and divorce has its unique aspects, and yours may have special areas of contention the court must consider. For the most part, however, a divorce decree deals with the most common topics a couple brings to the table, including:
- How to divide assets
- How to separate debts
- Whether one spouse will pay alimony or spousal support and how much, for how long
- Which spouse will have physical or legal custody of any children
- Whether one parent will pay child support and how much
While these may seem straightforward, it is possible that your divorce decree will contain certain contingencies. Failing to note these and question any that seem unusual may leave you with debts you did not incur or an unfavorable support order.
What you should look for
Before you sign your divorce decree, you will want to read it carefully. Legal language can be vague and confusing, and this might be to your disadvantage. For example, if you need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to obtain your share of funds from a pension plan, the decree must use specific wording that the trustee of the pension plan can easily interpret. You should also be alert for any specific items you agreed to that are missing or transcribed incorrectly.
If your divorce was painful, the last thing you want to do is revisit the specifics of the breakup. However, simply signing without reading and even obtaining a legal review may leave you with a divorce decree that is unacceptable. You may then be facing another long, difficult legal battle to have your decree modified by the court.