Is a Divorce Decree a Conveyance of Property?

by Heather Frances Google

A divorce decree usually splits property between spouses in addition to addressing child support, custody and other issues. However, even though your decree orders your property to be split in a certain way, you may have to take additional steps to make the transfer effective. For example, you may need to sign a deed giving real estate to your spouse.

Divorce Decree

State laws vary greatly on this issue, but in most states, your divorce decree alone cannot convey property. Instead, the decree merely orders that the property be conveyed. It is simply the judge’s instructions to both spouses about who gets what property; it’s up to the spouses to make the necessary transfers happen. For example, if your divorce decree orders you to change a vehicle from both names to just your name, you may need to visit your motor vehicle registration office and fill out an application to change the title.

Enforceability

The terms of your divorce decree are enforceable and terms regarding property division are rarely modifiable. Thus, if your ex-spouse refuses to comply with the decree’s order to transfer property, you have recourse to force compliance. For example, you can file a petition asking the court to hold your ex-spouse in contempt. If the court finds enough evidence that your ex-spouse intentionally violated the divorce decree, the court can order fines or even jail time for your ex-spouse.

Types of Conveyances

The actual transfer of property may be made by different types of conveyances depending on the type of property involved. Often, real estate is conveyed between ex-spouses by a quitclaim deed, which has the same power to transfer property as does a warranty deed -- but without any warranties. With a quitclaim deed, you are signing over whatever ownership interest you have in the property, if any, to your ex-spouse. Pension or retirement benefits may be transferred by a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO. This order is issued by a judge, often at the same time as your divorce decree, to direct the pension or retirement plan administrator to pay a certain portion of benefits directly to the ex-spouse of the plan’s beneficiary.

Transfer by Decree

In a few states, the terms of the divorce decree can actually change the ownership of property. For example, a Colorado court can include language in a divorce decree that actually transfers title to property. If your state allows the court’s order to convey property, you may be required to record the divorce decree at your county recorder’s office to incorporate the transfer into the official real estate records.