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What Is A Divorce Decree?

Every Texas divorce case starts when one spouse files a petition to dissolve the marriage, and it concludes when the court enters a final divorce decree. This document not only marks the closure of the divorce proceedings, but it is also the legal end to a marriage. But what is a divorce decree?

In short, a divorce decree is a legal document setting out the terms of your divorce. The decree includes your and your ex-spouse’s rights and responsibilities with respect to property division, spousal support, child custody and support, and any unique issues that apply to your divorce. Many parties obtain their decree by an uncontested agreement, as many judges will approve a settlement on the key issues. Others might work out disagreements through the mediation process, in which a trained professional guides the parties into reaching a compromise. For any issues that remain in contention, the court will hold a court proceeding to determine the outcome.

Regardless of what route is taken in obtaining a final divorce decree, it is important to understand the legal implications of this crucial document. While it represents the end of your marriage, it also sets the stage for the post-divorce rights and responsibilities of the parties. Every final divorce decree is different, so you should rely on your Texas divorce lawyer to explain the details. An overview is also helpful. 

Legal Effect Of A Final Divorce Decree In Texas

Whenever a judge signs a court document, the order has the effect of law. It may be a private law that applies only to the parties to the proceeding, but both are obligated to comply with the legal requirements contained within the order. Although the divorce case has concluded, many legal obligations will continue – potentially for several years, depending on the issue. Breaking this private law, whether intentionally or by mistake, can lead to serious consequences. In addition, a violation of the final divorce decree by one party opens the door to legal action by the other.

Topics Covered In A Texas Final Divorce Decree

Once you know the impact of the court’s order, you should be aware of what terms and issues will be included in it. Your final Texas divorce decree will provide for: 

  • Property Division: Texas is a community property state that follows the rule of equitable distribution of assets. This means that property is separated into what was acquired during the marriage and items that each individual owned beforehand. Then, assets are divided according to the interests of equity, i.e., fairness.
  • Spousal Support: When there is a significant financial disparity between the parties, one may be required to pay spousal support to the other. Very rarely will this be a permanent arrangement, so the divorce decree will include details on the type, amount, and duration of the support.
  • Child Custody, Visitation, and Support: Texas uses the term conservatorship to refer to what you may know as custody, which involves allocating parental responsibilities and decision-making involving the child. Possession is the equivalent of visitation or parenting time for the noncustodial parent. The final divorce decree will include details on these issues, so it remains law until children become adults – and potentially longer if the order includes requirements on paying into adulthood by virtue of a child’s disability.

Legal Proceedings On Divorce Decrees

A violation of the court’s order is officially breaking the law. If you have experienced a substantial change in circumstances and cannot comply with spousal or child support obligations or need to alter child custody arrangments, it is wise to consider modification. Just as with the original divorce proceedings, you can handle this process by agreement, through mediation, or a contested hearing. Your request for modification could be based on employment, relocation, or many other factors, but you should go through the legal proceedings instead of defaulting on the decree.

Alternatively, you may have to enforce the decree if your ex-spouse violates it. There are multiple remedies that you may request from the court, including: 

  • Delivering assets that were to be turned over to you after divorce;
  • A money judgment if assets were dissipated or destroyed or for unpaid alimony;
  • Altering the terms of custody or visitation;
  • Payment of any attorneys’ fees you incur for enforcing the final divorce decree; and
  • Contempt of court, which may include fines and other penalties.

What Is a Divorce Certificate?

Divorce certificates are comparable to birth, death, or marriage certificates. Some states use different names for divorce certificates or do not issue them at all.

In Texas, divorce certificates are called divorce verifications. Divorce verifications contain the names of the ex-spouses, the date the divorce was finalized, and the location of the divorce. A divorce verification can serve as proof of your divorce for some purposes, like changing your name on legal documents or applying for a new marriage license. 

You are not automatically issued a divorce verification when you get divorced. You can request a divorce verification from the Texas Department of State Health Services online. Alternatively, you can request a certificate by mail or in person at the Austin Vital Statistics office or your local vital statistics office. Records are available from 1968 to the present day. If you need an older verification, contact the court where the divorce was finalized.

Differences Between a Divorce Decree and Divorce Certificate

Although some people use the terms interchangeably, divorce decrees and divorce certificates are quite different. Where you get the documents, the information they contain, and the purposes for which you can use them vary considerably.

Where You Get the Document

A court always issues a divorce decree when you finalize the terms of your divorce. You can request a divorce certificate (divorce verification) from the state government, but it is not issued automatically.

Information in the Document

A divorce verification contains three things: the names of the spouses, the divorce date, and the location of the divorce. A divorce decree includes all the terms you and your ex-spouse must follow post-divorce, including property division, spousal support, and arrangements for children.

Uses for the Document

A divorce verification can serve as legal proof that you are divorced, but it may not satisfy legal requests requiring details about your divorce’s terms. Using the certificate allows you to avoid revealing private divorce details if you do not want to.

A divorce decree can also serve as legal proof that you are divorced, but it can also prove the terms of your divorce. You can use the divorce decree in court to enforce its provisions, and it provides rules you must follow. However, it may contain sensitive information you do not want to publicize.

Talk To A Texas Divorce Attorney About Court Orders and Proceedings

While this information is useful in understanding what a divorce decree is, there are many additional details you need to know when it comes to your unique circumstances. Our team at The Ramos Law Group, PLLC will be at your side throughout the process, so please contact our offices in Houston, TX, today to schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer. 

Last Updated on August 11, 2023 by Mary E. Ramos

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Mary E. Ramos

Mary E. Ramos is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She is recognized and respected throughout the Houston legal community for dedication in effectively representing clients’ rights and interests. Mary understands the emotional side of divorce and brings a special compassion to each and every case.

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