The Divorce Decree: Your judge’s Final Word

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The final document in your divorce is the decree. If you and your spouse have reached an agreement, the decree normally would just recite and approve its terms. This is to say that whatever your terms were would be written out, and the judge would just sign your agreement without taking evidence or having a hearing. If you haven’t reached settlement, the decree contains the judge’s decisions regarding your debts, property and children.

Officially, nothing is final until the judge says it is. Even if you and your spouse have reached agreement, the decree has no effect until the judge approves your terms. Generally, the judge will do this. State statutes and just plain logic encourage the judge to be as efficient as he / she can. It doesn’t make sense for him / her to force two people to take up more court time if they don’t need it.

However, if the decree has terms that are "against public policy" the judge can refuse to sign it. Examples of this would be a provision that agrees that child support will never be paid, or that child custody could not be modified under any circumstances. Such provisions would deprive the court of jurisdiction in the future. The judge cannot give that up, even if he / she wants to. Circumstances could change. The judge has to be able to modify the decree to allow for those changes when it comes to the care and safety of children.

If one member of the couple threatens the other, and it comes to the judge’s attention, he / she can refuse to sign the decree. A judge can always force the parties to appear in court if he / she thinks it is necessary. In such a situation, the court might be inclined to satisfy him / herself that the agreement was made freely and voluntarily. This rarely happens. Unless an extreme situation is brought to the judge’s attention, he /she will assume that an agreement between two adults is valid, even if it favors one of them over the other.

If the couple have not reached settlement, the judge has to hear evidence regarding their case. Witnesses and exhibits are presented in court. Each side is given an opportunity to explain what they think was proven, and the judge decides who was right. He / she issues his / her conclusions in a written document called "the decree".

Once the decree is entered, the parties are obliged to do what the judge has ordered. The custody of the children or payment of child support are decided until there is good reason to change them. Division of debts and property are finalized, and can never be changed. If the couple is unhappy with the judge’s final order, their only recourse is an appeal. If you take that route, save up your pennies.

Lucille Uttermohlen has been a family law attorney for 27 years. If you hav questions about divorce, or any other legal issue, visit Lucille at for answers.

Article Source: ArticleSpan

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