What is a Divorce Decree?
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A divorce decree is a formal order issued by the court at the end of the divorce proceeding. The divorce decree may be referred to as a final judgment or a judgment of divorce.
An absolute divorce fully dissolves the marriage. Once a decree of absolute divorce is entered, either person can remarry. Any jointly-owned property is divided and distributed in accordance with an agreement (such as a pre-nuptial agreement or other written contract), or with the Marital Property Act. After property has been distributed, neither person can claim ownership of property belonging to the other.
An absolute divorce decree MAY provide for:
- Payment of alimony: Alimony is a financial or monetary obligation or payment by one party to the other party. Alimony may be temporary, rehabilitative (awarded for a specific period of time), or indefinite. An award of indefinite alimony is rare.
- Custody of children: Custody may be awarded to only one parent (“sole custody”) or both parents (“joint custody"). With joint custody, the parents share the responsibility for raising and caring for the children. Custody of a child may be legal (one parent has the right to make major decisions regarding a minor child) or physical (making a home for the child and making day-today decisions during the time the child lives with the parent).
- Payment of child support: If the divorced couple has children, one party may be required to pay the other party child support. Regardless, both parents are legally required to support their minor children (i.e., unemancipated and 17 years of age or younger [or 18 years of age if the child is still in high school]).
- Division of property: If the individuals seeking a divorce cannot agree on how property belonging to both of them should be divided, that property may be sold, and the proceeds from the sale will be divided between the parties. Examples of property that may belong to both individuals include a car, house, or bank accounts.
- Use of last name: A spouse may ask the court to change his or her name back to the name used before the marriage. These requests are usually granted.
A limited divorce does not end the marriage. However, the limited divorce decree can resolve some important issues. A decree of limited divorce may establish any of the following:
- child custody;
- child support;
- spousal support; and
- use and possession of property (if applicable).
To get a copy of your divorce decree, contact the Circuit Court where your divorce was finalized. The Maryland Courts has a directory of Circuit Courts.
The Division of Vital Records (Maryland Department of Health) verifies divorces and annulments that occurred on or after January 1, 1992. The following persons may apply.
- Either spouse named on the record
- Representative of either spouse named on the record. (Note: The representative must show a letter stating that s/he has permission to obtain a copy of the Verification of Divorce. The letter must be signed by the either spouse named on the record and certified by a notary public.)
- Attorney representing either spouse named on the record (Note: The attorney must present proof that s/he represents either spouse named on the record.)
Information about ordering the verification of divorce records, ID requirements, fees, and processing times is available on the Division of Vital Records website.