What Is A Divorce Decree?

Like any legal process, divorce can be complex and often confusing to those unfamiliar with it. The law is full of specific terminology and complicated procedures – and this often leads to many questions. One question that we are often asked is – what exactly is a divorce decree?

It’s a reasonable and important question to ask. The short answer is that a “decree” is simply a legal proclamation or order. In the case of the divorce process, a decree is simply the final order in the case declaring that the parties are officially divorced. It is essentially the conclusion of the legal process. Typically, the divorce decree will contain the important and necessary information regarding your case, on issues like spousal support, child support, custody and visitation, division of property, and other pertinent details.  

Although that is the short answer, it’s important to realize that there are many steps those going through the divorce process must take before an official decree is entered. The decree is simply the conclusion of a longer, more complex process. So the question is – how do you get there? How do you go from the beginning of the divorce process, when all your issues are unsettled and there is so much that is unknown, to the conclusion, where a resolution is reached and conflict is resolved?  Let’s take a closer look at the options together. 

A Look At Out-Of-Court Options

Many of us have seen legal dramas involving a divorce – and often on television, the portrayals of divorce can involve a great deal of fighting and conflict over high-stakes issues. As a result, many people assume that the divorce process will be a contentious, difficult, and drawn-out process – and that is possible. The good news, however, is that in the vast majority of cases today, couples can address and resolve the issues that arise during a divorce almost entirely outside of the courtroom.  


When many people think about resolving divorce issues outside of the courtroom, mediation is one of the first options that comes to mind. Traditionally, this has been a method that many couples have used successfully, and it does offer many advantages.

Mediation is a process in which the parties, and typically their attorneys, meet with a neutral third party called a mediator. The parties will present their issues to the mediator, and the mediator, who is usually professionally trained to help the parties negotiate and work through their issues to reach resolutions that are satisfactory to everyone. The parties often split the mediator’s fee, and at the end of the process, the goal is to be able to craft a settlement agreement that expresses the intentions of the parties and allows them to move forward.

Many people like mediation because it offers the flexibility and freedom to address their issues in their own way, without court intervention. It also offers more privacy and confidentiality than courtroom litigation, where everything is a matter of public record.


Arbitration is another method of issue resolution that is used in situations where the parties want a sort of “middle ground” between the laid-back nature of mediation, and full-fledged litigation in a courtroom setting. In an arbitration, the parties each have their own attorneys, and they present their issues to an arbitrator. Essentially, the arbitrator acts like a judge, and the arbitrator’s decisions will ultimately have the same binding effect upon the parties as would a judge’s orders. Arbitrations often also have a specific set of rules that the parties agree to before beginning the proceedings, and they present evidence and make arguments in a manner similar to being in a courtroom.

While arbitration does have some similarities to courtroom litigation, it has important similarities to mediation too. Like mediation, arbitration is more private and confidential and allows the parties to avoid having all of their issues and private lives on display in a public setting. Additionally, despite having certain rules, it is still more informal than courtroom litigation and takes place in a more casual, out-of-court setting. It can also be more expedient, and therefore more cost effective than traditional litigation.

For all of these reasons, arbitration is often preferred as a solid middle-ground option for those parties who want more structure and formality than a mediation, but who still want the advantages of resolving their issues outside of the courtroom.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is one of the most popular methods of out-of-court resolution and an excellent option for couples who want maximum freedom and flexibility to address their issues in a way that works best for their family. Like mediation, collaborative law takes place almost entirely outside of the courtroom. The basic goal is for the parties to negotiate in good faith and work toward resolving their issues constructively and cooperatively.

  • Collaborative law includes a few essential elements, namely:
  • A written agreement is signed by the attorneys and their clients committing that all parties will attempt to keep the matters outside of a courtroom;
  • All attorneys will agree that they will not participate in litigation against the other party if the collaborative law process fails;
  • The lawyers participate actively with the parties in working toward resolution of the issues, but the parties are the ultimate decision-makers;
  • Experts may be retained jointly by the parties to resolve the issues that exist and work to serve both parties in thinking through and addressing the issues in the most effective way possible.

While collaborative law may seem similar to mediation in many ways, it also has key differences. Importantly, in a collaborative law setting, the lawyers are advocates, actively working with clients to resolve the issues – whereas in a mediation the lawyers play less active and more neutral roles, while the mediator takes the lead.

Additionally, in a collaborative law setting, the risk of failure is distributed to lawyers as well as the parties. If the spouses are ultimately unable to resolve their issues and choose to litigate, the lawyers in the collaborative law setting are prevented from moving forward with the case in a courtroom. This ultimately incentivizes the lawyers, as well as the parties, to work actively and consistently toward resolution of the issues.

Choosing the Option that Works Best For You

These are only a few options for out-of-court resolution of the issues that couples face during a divorce. Ultimately, you know your family and your relationship best. Knowing that, and in consultation with your attorney, you and your spouse can choose the best path forward for resolving your issues and moving forward as amicably and successfully as possible.

The good news is that in many cases, this is always possible and certainly attainable. In other cases, however, there are simply situations where a couple can’t resolve the issues between them on their own. This may simply be the result of a difficult dynamic between the couple. In other cases, there may be issues of abuse, addiction, or marital misconduct that make open and honest communication and negotiation impossible. In those situations, the best course of action may be litigating your issues in court.

Litigating Your Divorce In The Courtroom

Litigating your divorce issues in a courtroom can seem intimidating at first. That’s understandable. The legal process can be complex, and the idea of having to gather and present evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments to a court may be slightly overwhelming. The good news is, that with the right attorney on your side, you can navigate this process effectively, and ultimately reach an outcome that works for both parties.

Generally, the court process will consist of gathering, organizing, and presenting your evidence and arguments to the court on all issues that need to be decided. It may include calling witnesses, or hiring experts. Depending upon the ages of your children, the court may want to interview them. It may also require you to attempt to mediate your issues if you have not already done so.

After all of the evidence and argument has been presented to the court, it will then review the evidence and issue a final order, in which it addresses all remaining issues between he parties. This order will be binding, and the parties will be required to abide by it until such time as the court makes a modification to the order in the future if requested by one of the parties.

Moving Forward After Receiving Your Divorce Decree

Regardless of which option you choose to resolve your divorce issues, the ultimate goal is to find comprehensive solutions that work for your family. If your case went to trial, the divorce decree will include the terms and orders of the court that both parties will be expected to obey. If you didn’t litigate your issues in court and settled them outside of the courtroom instead, the decree will contain the terms of the settlement that both spouses agreed upon, and by which they will be expected to abide moving forward.

When a divorce decree is finally entered, both parties will be able to move forward with confidence to the next chapter ahead. Part of doing so will mean taking other necessary steps that can only be taken after the decree is finalized, including:

  • Filing any necessary appeals if you are unhappy with the court’s decisions on your issues after trial;
  • Changing legal documents like wills, trusts, etc. to reflect your newly divorced status and updated wishes, if any;
  • Changing beneficiaries on insurance policies;
  • Updating savings and checking accounts and other investments in your name only, if necessary;
  • Canceling or changing credit cards;
  • Any other steps necessary to move forward, as advised by your attorney.

At some point in the future, you may want to obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree. If so, you can usually obtain such a copy from the clerk’s office located in the courthouse where your divorce was finalized, or in some cases, at the office of your county clerk. Typically, only the parties involved in the divorce, or their attorneys, can obtain a copy of the divorce decree.

The Law Office of Dustin McCrary – Here For You

If you find yourself at the beginning of your divorce journey you may feel overwhelmed. You may feel anxious and uncertain about what lies ahead. You may feel worried about all of the things you don’t know. All of those feelings are completely normal. The good news, however, is that you don’t have to go through this process alone.  

 At the Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we are here to walk with you each step of the way. We will meet you where you are, and we will help you move forward. The process may not always be easy, but many clients find that better and brighter things do wait around the corner. You simply need to take the right steps to get there. We’ll help you do exactly that. If you’re ready to get started, give us a call. We look forward to speaking with you soon. 

We’ll meet you right where you are.

You can trust our compassionate expertise to help you navigate the legal and emotional difficulties of divorce.

Where clients are neighbors, not numbers.