what's in a divorce decree

Divorce Decrees: What You Need To Know

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Divorce can be a long, arduous process. Exes often spend months going back and forth, painstakingly untangling 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 represents 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 of 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 the court splits everything 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 must agree to the settlement and this forms a part of the divorce decree.

Related Reading: 6 High Asset Divorce Mistakes that Cost People Dearly

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 get a divorce, that doesn’t change any financial obligations you 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 you owe substantial amounts, during the settlement negotiations you and your spouse must decide who remains responsible for what. Your divorce decree outlines these obligations.

But just because the decree orders your ex to handle a specific debt doesn’t mean they always do. In a perfect world, yes, but we don’t live in a perfect world. If they miss payments, it can negatively impact you and your credit. You may even wind up being sent to collections.

In these situations, part of your agreement can include the requirement that your ex refinances a loan to remove your name. Still, it may be in your best financial interest to follow up and make sure this actually happens.

Related Reading: Protecting Your Credit Score During a Divorce

3. Custody And Visitation

When a split involves minor children, divorce proceedings often 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. The specifics will have to be worked out between you and your spouse or be ruled on by the court. Though many parents 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 to take measures to enforce your parental rights.  

4. Child Support

If children figure into your divorce, child support usually becomes 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 usually gets the money. Child support can howeer be awarded in cases of 50/50 shared custody. Often this boils down to financial need and ability to pay.

Child support provides for the continuing care of your kids following a 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.

Related Reading: Frequently Asked Child Support Questions Answered

5. Spousal Support

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

Not as formulaic as child support, a number of factors impact the amount. This includes 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.

Make sure to give the document a close look. 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 expensive.

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.

Related Reading: 5 Things to Know About Divorce in Washington

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