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Steps to Obtaining a Divorce Decree

Your divorce decree is the court’s formal order determining distribution of all property and debts, custody arrangements, child support, and spousal maintenance. Obtaining a divorce decree can be a smooth process or it can be arduous, emotionally draining, and very expensive.

To obtain a divorce decree, follow these basic steps:

  • Determine the required waiting period if any.
  • Determine the required separation period if any.
  • Determine the grounds for divorce if you're in a fault state.
  • Arrange for distribution of property and debts.
  • Determine if any temporary court orders are needed.
  • File and serve a divorce petition.
  • Attend court-ordered or voluntary mediation if necessary.

Support Issues

Other issues in obtaining a divorce decree are child support and alimony, or spousal maintenance. Most states determine child support by statutory guidelines. Spousal maintenance is generally based upon the length of the marriage, the parties' income levels, the potential earning capacity of both parties, and the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Consult an attorney if your divorce involves issues of child custody, visitation, or spousal maintenance.

If it is likely that spousal maintenance will be awarded, it is preferable for the parties to work out a satisfactory mutual arrangement rather than having the court do it. The same is true for custody and visitation rights. Both parents are entitled to joint legal and physical custody, so trying to demonstrate that the other parent is unfit in order to obtain sole custody is usually fruitless and expensive unless you have substantial evidence of criminal or severely unstable conduct on the part of the other parent. Mediation is usually required, or at least encouraged, by many courts as a means to work out an equitable arrangement of property, support, and child custody issues in lieu of litigation. Once the waiting period, if any, is over, and a satisfactory settlement has been arranged, the court will grant the divorce decree.

Obtaining Copies of the Decree

You can obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree from your attorney or by going to your county's vital records office. If you are out-of-state, you can request a certified copy by including the court case number and full title of the petition and date the decree was granted. Be sure to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and a check for copying and certification costs. Check the website for the county where the decree was granted for complete information on how to request a copy. A certified copy is required as proof of your divorce by most public or private agencies.