Understanding the details of your divorce decree

When you’re wrapped up in the emotion of a divorce, your eyes might glaze over to the details. At the end of the process, you’ll receive a divorce decree, a legal document that spells out the terms of your split.

Before the divorce decree is settled, both parties must review and sign the agreement unless the case goes to trial in which the judge rules and determines the terms of the divorce. As you inspect this weighty document, it may seem confusing and overwhelming, but this is no time to tune out.

It’s important to review your divorce decree thoroughly before signing, to check for accuracy and understand the provisions. Learn what to do with your divorce decree, and how it can help you move on with your life.

Read, ‘Post Decree Matters for Dissolution of Marriage.

What is a divorce decree?

A divorce decree also referred to as a Judgement for Dissolution of Marriage,  is a legal document that lists all the provisions agreed upon by the parties involved in the divorce. It is signed by them and authorized by the court unless a default order is issued against one of the parties or the case goes to trial.

When can you expect to receive a divorce decree?

People receive a divorce decree after their divorce proceeding is finalized. The divorce decree is issued by the court at which the divorce was filed.

The divorce decree is a physical packet of papers each party receives. Divorce decrees are stamped by the clerk of court and must carry this emblem to be considered a certified copy official divorce decree.

What is included in a divorce decree?

When a married couple decides to legally end their union, the divorce decree will divide the intertwined parts of their lives. This includes determining how to divide their current assets and a separate document known now as an Allocation Judgment will address issues involving their children.    

Each divorce decree is unique to the parties involved, and nearly anything can be stipulated according to the wishes and agreement of both people. However, divorce decrees feature some common sections.

5 Common items found in a divorce decree

  1. Division of assets: How the divorcing couple’s financial assets, homes, cars and other property will be divided.
  2. Division of debts: How the divorcing couple’s financial debts will be divided. 
  3. Maintenance: Also often called spousal support or alimony, it is monies one party will pay to the other for a period of years after the divorce is finalized, to support the other spouse.
  4. Child support: Monies that will be paid by one parent to the other, usually the custodial parent. A divorce decree also often includes how expenses for mutual children — for education, health, sports and other items — will be divided.
  5. Allocation of Parental Responsibility: Formerly known as custody, this is a plan for how decisions regarding the children will be made and how much time mutual children will spend with both parents. This will often issue as a separate judgment.

What should I look for before signing my divorce decree?

While you may be tempted to get it over with quickly, instead, slow down and read your divorce decree thoroughly before signing it.

This legal document dictates at least a portion of your actions over the next several months, or a lifetime if you share children with your ex-spouse. You owe it to yourself to carefully review the provisions to which you’re about to agree.

What you should know before signing the divorce decree

  • Accuracy: No one knows your case better than you, so review the provisions of your divorce decree for errors.
  • Last-minute changes: Even if it seems simple, you may not immediately think of all the potential consequences of a change.
  • Vague language: A divorce decree is no time for leaving details up to interpretation. If something seems ambiguous, get clarification.
  • Missing items: If you don’t see an item that you expected would be included, don’t sign until it is discussed and possibly added to the divorce decree.

Do I need a copy of my divorce decree?

The court, through your attorney, will provide you a copy of the divorce decree upon its finalization. You should keep this copy in your files for future use, and perhaps order a few certified copies.

Especially in the case of women who are reverting back to their maiden name, certified copies of a divorce decree must be presented for proof.  In many cases, a separate name change order can be entered.

What do I have to do after my divorce decree is finalized?

The most important thing to do after your divorce is finalized and a divorce decree is issued — follow the orders of your divorce decree. Having signed the divorce decree, you have legally pledged to obey its terms.

What if you fail to follow your Illinois divorce decree?

If you fail to follow the terms of a divorce decree, you stand in violation of a court order and be held in contempt. This can cause many legal problems.

Common consequences of not following a divorce decree

  • Wage garnishments
  • Credit problems
  • Revocation of driving privileges  

Most importantly, following the terms of your divorce decree and any separate Allocation Judgments regarding the children provides the greatest sense of harmony for yourself and your children, who rely on stability and routine to thrive.

Once the terms of the divorce decree are finalized, allow yourself to move forward by following the provisions you agreed to or which have been ordered through the Court.

Make a divorce decree checklist

To ensure all of the provisions of your divorce decree are implemented, make a checklist. Make sure you change ownership, beneficiaries designations, pay off debts and otherwise comply with the term of the Court Order.

If you are considering filing for divorce, learning about your options, or petitioning for a change to your divorce decree, the caring professionals at Sterk Family Law will provide all the information you need to make a smart choice.

Contact our experienced divorce attorneys for a free initial consultation or learn more about our legal team.


This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

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