What Is a Divorce Decree?

Written by Rebecca Melone on . Posted in .

Divorce is a stressful and painful process that can be emotionally devastating. If there are children involved, the divorce can stretch on for a long time due to custody battles and arrangements. A divorce decree signals the end of a marriage in the eyes of the courts. It also, however, brings an array of legal requirements that can be tricky to understand. A divorce attorney experienced in family law can help you with any questions you might have about the legal terms or what comes after the final divorce decree.

What Is the Difference Between a Divorce Decree and Divorce Certificate?

A divorce decree and divorce certificate are two different yet complementary documents. Both are a matter of record, so you should be able to get a copy of your divorce decree and certificate from the local clerk’s office or public records office anytime you need one, just like you can a marriage certificate. Divorce decrees are court documents, but divorce certificates, though still vital records, are not.

Divorce Decree in Virginia

A divorce decree is the official court document issued after the divorce judgment that ends your marriage and serves three main functions. It clearly identifies all parties in the divorce, including you, your former spouse, and any children. It includes statements verifying that your divorce complies with state law, including how parties were served, the type of divorce, your case number, and confirmation that both spouses are adults. Finally, it dictates the terms of the divorce, how property is divided, and how alimony or spousal support is established. If you have an agreement, it may incorporate the terms of that agreement. If there was a court order, it will include the terms as decided by the judge.

Are There Divorce Certificates in Virginia?

A divorce certificate, on the other hand, is an official document issued by the records office of some states which exists only to provide proof of a divorce. It’s just one page and includes basic identification regarding both spouses, as well as a statement that the divorce judgment is final.

In Virginia, the closest thing to a divorce certificate is the VS-4 form, but it has very little use or applicability. In our state, we rely strictly on divorce decrees to permit a name change, obtain a new driver’s license or other ID, serve as proof of divorce for credit cards and the like, and apply for a new marriage certificate if you wish to get remarried.

What Is a Property Settlement Agreement in Virginia?

A property settlement agreement is a separate agreement issued before the divorce decree. It breaks down how the division of property is to be handled between you and your ex-spouse. If you have property to divide, either you need an agreement or the judge has to make a ruling.

What Is the Process of Getting a Divorce Decree in Virginia?

In the eyes of the court, getting a divorce decree is the final step and finalizes your divorce case. The exact divorce process depends on how you and your spouse choose to proceed. In an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse agree on all aspects of the separation, from child support and child custody to property division, Social Security issues, and beyond. The two of you then create a marital settlement agreement and file divorce papers, also known as the divorce complaint, which opens the case. From there, you will be able to have a certified copy of your divorce decree, divorce certificate, and other divorce records issued and stamped by the court clerk.

Contested divorces can be more acrimonious and time-consuming. If you are facing this form of divorce, it’s even more important to have the services of a divorce lawyer to protect your rights. In these cases, a court order is required for final judgment on everything from parenting time for minor children to who gets the house and car to retirement benefits, spousal support, and beyond. The circuit court handles contested divorces in Virginia.

How Long Does a Divorce Decree Take in Richmond, VA?

The length of time it takes to reach a divorce decree depends on how long it takes to come to an agreement with your former spouse. In a contested divorce, the process can drag out for months or even years. With an uncontested divorce, the process can go quite quickly. In the best cases, you won’t even need to attend a hearing; you can just file an affidavit or deposition to get the documents issued.

signing divorce decree next to rings

What Happens After You Get Your Divorce Decree in Richmond?

Your divorce decree outlines all the requirements of your divorce in detail. As soon as you receive your copy of the decree, you should carefully read it over to be sure that it’s accurate. The decree signifies the final judgment and end of your divorce case. You are required to obey its terms. 

If you have any questions at all about the decree, it’s important to speak to your attorney. If you’re not happy with the decree, you should immediately file an appeal. If the decree affects your will, change it. Change the beneficiaries on any insurance policies as necessary, and update all emergency contacts. If your former spouse had power of attorney, it may be a good idea to change it. You should also remove their name from any checking accounts (or have your name removed if the accounts are adjudicated to them). Finally, cancel or change all your credit cards.

Always remember that both spouses are required to follow the divorce decree. If your former spouse fails to do so, you can and should bring them to court. Likewise, if circumstances affecting alimony or child support change, you may be able to bring the case back to court. Your attorney can help you with this.

Do You Need an Attorney to Get a Divorce Decree?

If your divorce is uncontested and you and your former spouse are on the same page with all things, a divorce attorney may not be necessary. Many people, however, do opt to speak with an attorney, especially in contested divorce cases. In the end, an attorney can help answer any legal questions you have and provide important advice regarding your split.

End Your Marriage on Your Terms

The experienced divorce lawyers at Melone Hatley, P.C. have represented individuals in divorce cases all across Virginia from California in Rockbridge County to Richmond and beyond. If you’re facing a divorce or have questions about your divorce decree, we can offer legal advice and guidance. Contact us at 800-479-8124 or use our online contact form to speak with one of our team members about your case today.


Rebecca Melone

Written By Rebecca Melone

Rebecca Melone established Melone Hatley P.C. in 2014 with the goal of helping families with a range of legal services from estate and family law to traffic tickets and misdemeanor criminal matters. Over the past five years the firm has grown and expanded its services to include a wide range of e…
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