what's in a divorce decree

Divorce Decree: What You Need To Know

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Divorce can be a long, arduous process. You and your now ex may have spent months going back and forth, painstakingly untangling your shared lives, dealing with legal and logistical hurdles, and preparing to move forward. At the end of it all, once everything is said and done, you walk away with your final divorce decree.

What is a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree is the court’s final ruling on the matter at hand. On a practical level, it grants the dissolution of marriage and lays out the basic information regarding the separation. This includes the case number, date of divorce, and responsibilities agreed to by each party.

This document covers a number of topics, but what exactly should you expect to see on your divorce decree?

1 – Division Of Property

Different states handle the division of property in different ways. When it comes to splitting up shared assets in a divorce, Washington is a community property state. As a concept, this is fairly straightforward.

All property acquired during the course of your marriage, even items held in one individual’s name or the other, are considered to belong equally to both parties. When it comes to divorce, this will all be divided in an equitable fashion.

This doesn’t mean everything will be split equally between the two of you. In community property states, the division of assets will be such that both parties come out on relatively even footing. Spouses can choose to work with each other to come to an arrangement, enlist the aid of mediators, or allow the court to determine how to break up these assets. Whatever path you take, both sides have to agree to the settlement and this will be part of the divorce decree.

2 – Division Of Debt

Much like property, possessions, and assets accrued during a marriage are viewed as community property, so, too, is debt. Just because you’re getting a divorce doesn’t change any financial obligations you may have incurred while married.

For example, if you have a mortgage, car loan, or other shared debt in your name, you remain responsible for that money.

If there are substantial amounts owed, during the settlement negotiations you and your spouse must decide who is responsible for what. Your divorce decree will outline these obligations.

But just because your ex is ordered to handle a specific debt doesn’t mean they always will. In a perfect world, yes, but we don’t live in a perfect world. If payments are missed, it can negatively impact you and your credit. You can even wind up being sent to collections.

In these situations, part of your agreement can include the requirement that your ex refinance a loan so your name is no longer attached. Still, it may be in your best financial interest to follow up and make sure this actually happens.

3 – Custody And Visitation

When minor children are involved, divorce proceedings can become even more heated and contentious. In these cases, a big part of the process will be to determine which parent has primary physical custody, establish a schedule moving forward, and create a parenting plan.

Part of this arrangement will include visitation, though the specifics will have to be worked out between you and your spouse or be decided on by the court. Though many men work diligently to establish visitation and remain a part of their children’s lives, it’s easy to let them get trampled on later. After the divorce decree, if your ex pushes at boundaries and violates the agreement, you may have take measures to enforce your parental rights.  

4 – Child Support

If children figure into your divorce, child support may prove to be one of the biggest pieces of your financial puzzle moving forward. Whether you make or receive these payments depends on the custody arrangement.

The parent with the most overnights is usually the one who gets the money, though child support can be awarded in cases of 50/50 shared custody. Often this boils down to financial need and ability to pay.

Child support is designed to provide for the continuing care of your kids following the divorce. They cover everything from regular necessities, like food, shelter, and medical care, to education and beyond. If this is a part of your separation, your divorce decree should include the specifics of child support.

5 – Spousal Support

Though it is not awarded in every case, spousal support may be ordered in your divorce. If it is, it will also figure into your divorce decree. Following the dissolution of a marriage, these payments, commonly called alimony, are designed to help your former spouse meet any financial needs.

Not as formulaic as child support, a number of factors may impact the amount. This can include the age and health of both parties, the length of the marriage, future earning potential, and more.

Depending on the situation, spousal support can be short-term and temporary or continue indefinitely. It may be ordered for a brief time to help your ex transition back to single life or even obtain training to reenter the workforce. If one party contributed significantly to the employment prospects of the other, or if a great divide in earning potential exists, alimony may also be assigned.

Before You Sign Your Divorce Decree

In reality, if you paid attention during the process, you shouldn’t find any surprises in your divorce decree. Whether you worked with your spouse, with attorneys, used mediation, or allowed the court to rule, these are all terms to which you previously agreed.

That said, make sure to give the document a close look and read it thoroughly before you sign and send it to the judge to be finalized. You’ll want to examine it for any mistakes, unclear language, or anything that has changed. Things like this need to be taken care of before signing.

After the divorce decree is official, making changes, even in the case of errors, can be tricky and may require appeals.

As with most legal matters, you may want to enlist the services of a skilled divorce lawyer. Even if you handled everything yourself, it may be in your best interest to enlist an attorney to look over your divorce decree before it becomes final. A few hundred dollars now may save you money, time, and headaches down the road.

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