What Is A Divorce Decree?
If you have made a decision to end your marriage, you will need to go through the legal process that involves getting a divorce decree. At this stage, you may be wondering “what is a divorce decree”?
A divorce decree is a piece of paper that specifies the terms and conditions for your divorce. Although Texas law is constantly changing, there are some rules that have remained in place. We’re here to explain what a divorce decree is all about and the steps to getting the document.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce decree in Texas is a document that declares the end of a marriage. It is often filed in court and becomes final once it is signed by the judge.
You will receive this document a few days after the judge signs it, as the decree is sent to your divorce attorney, who sends a copy to you.
The divorce decree is a legal document that specifies the terms of the separation between parties. It states how custody arrangements will take place and which parent will be responsible for paying child support. It also contains information about property division and spousal support payments.
If your ex fails to follow the terms specified in the decree, you can approach the court to ensure the enforcement of the terms.
What the divorce decree includes
As a court order that the family law judge issues, the divorce decree covers various matters related to the divorce including:
Alimony-Also known as spousal maintenance or support, alimony is the money one spouse agrees to pay the other. In Texas, maintenance cannot exceed $5000 per month or go above 20 percent of the monthly income of the spouse providing maintenance.
However, the spousal maintenance orders may be modified when circumstances change after the order is issued.
Property division – The judge identifies the combined assets and assigns value to these assets before deciding on property division. Like many other states, Texas law mandates equitable distribution of community property. This means property earned or held during the marriage by either spouse is divided equally between the divorcing parties.
Separate property refers to anything (property, cash, inheritance, gifts, or other assets) that one spouse owned before marriage. It is important to prove that an asset you own is your ‘separate property to ensure it does not get divided equally.
In some cases where the right reasons are proven, the court may order an unequal division of assets.
Debt division – The laws on distributing the debts are similar to property division. All debts incurred during the marriage belong equally to both spouses.
Child custody, support, and visitation -The law in Texas gives priority to naming both parents as joint managing conservators. The court will also consider the child/children’s best interests to see if one parent should get sole conservatorship (sole custody). The factors the court will look into include:
- The age of the child
- Parenting abilities of the divorcing parties
- The child’s current and future physical and emotional needs
- Evidence/history of domestic violence
- Whether there is any danger – currently or in the future- to the child
If one parent is named by the court as the sole conservator, the other parent is deemed to be a possessory conservator and is given visitation rights. These rights may not be granted if visitation by this parent threatens the child’s physical or emotional well being.
The final divorce decree can also include other matters specific to your situation or circumstances. Some examples of these matters include naming the party that is required to pay the attorney’s fees or taxes and name-change/use of maiden name authorization.
Divorce decree and a divorce certificate: Is there a difference?
A divorce certificate is typically used as the legal proof of divorce which may be required to apply for a passport or other legal documents. The certificate only includes minimal information related to:
- names of the divorcing couple
- the judge’s name
- date of the finalization of the divorce
- the details (location and name) of the court where the divorce was granted
A divorce certificate is available only at the county clerk or state-level office.
What is the process for getting a divorce decree in Texas?
There are a few steps that need to be followed in order to obtain a divorce decree in Texas.
An uncontested divorce is one where both parties agree on all the terms of the divorce.
The process of obtaining a divorce begins with the initiator filing the petition for divorce. If you are the initiator, your spouse is the respondent.
After filing the petition, the couple will need to attend a hearing to present their case. At this hearing, the court will decide if there is enough evidence to support a divorce. If so, the court will then issue a decree of divorce.
After obtaining the required information, the spouses can discuss with each other the terms of the divorce. A recommended way to ensure you get the best deal is to take the help of an experienced divorce attorney in Richmond.
If you and the other party agree on all matters, your divorce attorney then prepares the divorce settlement agreement. This is also called the“Agreed divorce decree” and covers all the terms of your agreement.
After the attorneys and spouses sign this document, the judge reviews it before including them in their final divorce decree.
A contested divorce
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on all or any issues, the judge will decide on these matters at the contested final hearing. Both parties present evidence in support of their case during the contested final hearing.
You can also file a TRO (temporary restraining order) to ensure your assets do not disappear before the court issues a property division order. This order also ensures the divorcing parties do not harass or threaten each other. If you or your spouse do not have all the information you need, you can pursue the divorce discovery process to exchange documents.
With specific procedures to follow and various forms to fill, the contested divorce can be a complex process. It is important to consult your divorce lawyer before requesting the contested final hearing. Before the case goes to trial, a court-ordered mediation must be attempted to resolve all matters.
If the mediation does not help in resolving the issues, the judge will determine the terms based on the evidence presented and the specifics of the case. When the trial concludes, either one of the lawyers prepares the Decree of Divorce for the judge. This contains the court’s orders and rulings that are binding on both parties once the judge signs the decree.
Ensure you read the final decree before it is sent for the judge’s signature. Check the document to make sure there are no changes in the language, missing provisions, or changes in monetary values and amounts. Ask your attorney to explain any vague or confusing terms in the decree.
What to do after you obtain the divorce decree?
Once you receive the decree, it is important to ensure you follow the orders and monitor that your ex complies with them too.
Here are the important things you should do after you get the decree:
- Read the decree carefully
- If you have doubts or questions, clarify with your attorney
- If you are not satisfied with the judge’s decision, talk to your lawyer before filing an appeal
- Start following the decree and ensure your ex’s compliance
Appealing the divorce decree
If you believe you have valid reasons for contesting the divorce decree, the first step is to talk to your lawyer. These reasons can include a mistake made by the judge in applying the law or other inconsistencies in the order.
An experienced family law attorney in Richmond can help you understand if there are compelling reasons to file an appeal.
The lawyer can also file an appeal in these situations:
- Your ex committed perjury or fraud to obtain the judgment
- Critical information or facts were concealed by your ex during the trial
- New facts have come to light that was not apparent during the trial proceedings
- Important evidence was excluded
Many times, even if you are keeping up with the terms of the decree from your end, ensuring your ex’s compliance becomes difficult. What should you do in case your ex violates the terms?
What if your ex fails to comply with the court’s orders?
If you find that your ex is not complying with the court’s orders, it is important to consult your lawyer to know what options you have to enforce the terms.
You will need to file a suit to request enforcement of the orders. The motion for enforcement must be filed in the court where you filed for divorce originally.
The court will be able to grant an enforcement order only after 30 days from the date the judge signs the final decree of divorce.
Note that two years is the statute of limitation for filing a lawsuit for enforcement. The two-year time period is calculated from the date the judge signed the original divorce decree.
Whether the non-compliance relates to child support or property division, there are many actions the court can take to enforce the order. For instance, the court may order the withholding of the child support amount from the non-compliant parent’s paycheck.
The court can suspend the non-compliant parent’s professional license, driver’s license, or other certificates.
In more serious cases, non-compliance with the court order can also amount to contempt of court. If your ex-spouse fails to comply with the decree, the court may issue fines or order jail time. Drafting and filing for the motion of contempt are handled by your lawyer.
Alternatively, the court can mandate community supervision or probation term that can go up to ten years. For the deviant parent, this can mean attending financial counseling classes, seeking employment services, and obtaining treatment for substance abuse.
In some cases, you can request a modification of the decree instead of filing an appeal.
Modifying the decree
There are many different ways that you can change a decree. Many times, the decree is changed to be more in line with what the family wants. Other times, people will want a more specific provision within the decree.
The things that are commonly modified in the decree include child custody, spousal support, and property division.
For instance, the managing conservator (the one with whom the child resides) receives child support as per the original Decree of Divorce that is based on financial factors.
Under Texas law, child support modification can be requested if there is a significant change in either parent’s circumstances since the order was passed.
Another situation is when one parent has a lifestyle change that may require child custody modification. This is done to protect the best interests of the child.
A good way to start this process is by speaking with an attorney and asking what modifications would be best for your situation. Your lawyer helps you present evidence of the change in your circumstances that paves way for modification of the court order.
Here, it is important for you to note that modification requests are not always one-sided. If you initiate the modification request, you can expect your ex to make requests to change an order. Instead of proving why you need sole custody or increased visitation rights, it is possible that you end up spending money and time defending the original orders.
Knowledge is power
Divorce is an emotional process that can be difficult to navigate. It is important to get educated on your rights so that no one unfairly has an advantage in the divorce process.
At Vendt Law Firm, we specialize in divorce and family law. From helping you understand what is a divorce decree to taking the steps to obtain one, our lawyers will make sure the process is hassle-free.
We have the experience and knowledge to provide. legal advice and representation for all areas of the process.