Should You Keep Your Divorce Decree?

Everyone has that file of important documents they keep in a safe or another secure area. You probably have your birth certificate, your kids’ birth certificates, deeds, titles, recent tax returns, and more safely stored away. Once your divorce is over, there are other documents to add to that folder: your divorce decree and certificate of dissolution.

What Is a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree is the final judgment of divorce in your case. It is a court order that is signed by the judge and entered into the county records. The divorce decree contains the final decisions about:

The decree also officially ends your marriage and makes you legally divorced.

Your attorney will carefully review this document with you to be sure you understand every provision and to help you comply with each.

What Is a Certificate of Dissolution?

A certificate of dissolution is the exact opposite of a marriage certificate. It is a one-page form that shows that your marriage has been dissolved. It does not include any of the details that are included in the decree and simply proves the marriage has ended.

When You Might Need Your Divorce Decree

There are a variety of situations in which you may need to use or show your divorce decree, including:

  • School. Your decree will determine legal custody of your child. If you have sole or shared legal custody, you may need to show the decree to your child’s school to be able to access their records and communicate with school staff. If you have sole physical custody of your child, you may need to show the decree to the school to ensure they know they cannot release your child to the other parent.
  • Name change. If you wish to return to your pre-marital name, the divorce decree is the document that legally changes your name. You will need to show this document to places such as the Social Security Administration and the DMV to change your name.
  • Refinancing. If you receive a marital home in the divorce and it has a mortgage with both names, you will need your divorce decree should you wish to refinance that mortgage into your own name.
  • Enforcement or modification. If your spouse does not comply with the terms of your divorce decree or you want to modify anything in it in the future, you will need your divorce decree to refer to so you and your attorney can review what the court ordered and what can be enforced or modified.

When You Might Need your Certificate of Dissolution

  • Remarriage. If you should ever remarry, you will need to show your certificate of dissolution to obtain your new marriage license in most states.
  • Name Change. You may be able to show your certificate of dissolution for your name change if you do not want to show your divorce decree with all the private information it contains.

What to Do If You Lose Your Decree or Certificate

Although these documents are important, the good news is they are not irreplaceable if you misplace them. Your attorney will always have a copy and you can obtain it from them. Or you can obtain the decree from the court clerk or the certificate from the county clerk or the state bureau of vital records. It may take time to obtain copies, however, so keeping your own copies in a safe place is a good idea.

Your divorce decree and certificate of divorce are key documents you may need to refer to or provide as proof in the future. It’s important you understand exactly what they say and mean and are able to refer to them when needed.


Naomi Schanfield

Naomi Schanfield concentrates on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, divorce, equitable distribution, child custody and visitation, support matters, family offense disputes, and domestic violence.

To connect with Naomi: 212.682.6222 | Online

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