Difference Between a Final Divorce Decree & a Settlement Agreement

By Travis Gray, J.D.

Difference Between a Final Divorce Decree & a Settlement Agreement

By Travis Gray, J.D.

If there is one thing a divorce process is famous for, it's paperwork. The number of court documents, agreements, court orders, and filings are numerous. So when you are going through a divorce process, it's important to understand what these documents are and what they mean. One common misunderstanding is the difference between a settlement agreement and a divorce decree.

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The Divorce Process

From start to finish, your divorce can be a long process. The legal proceedings begin with a petition for divorce and end with a final divorce decree. But if your divorce is uncontested, you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse will need to sign off on a settlement agreement.

Once your divorce decree is finalized by the court, it becomes much more difficult to make changes to the agreement. Getting help with your divorce while your still in negotiations can save you from spending more time and money on the process in the future.

Settlement Agreement

In an uncontested divorce, both parties come to an agreement on how the marital property should be split up. In some cases this is simple, given that there is little in the way of shared property to begin with. But even couples with a large amount of marital assets are able to come to a property split with which both parties can agree.

A settlement agreement simply splits the agreed property. The agreement will list you and your spouse, along with which property each spouse will get to keep, at the end of the marriage. This agreement is an important step in completing your divorce, but the property split won't become official until the judge in your case signs off.

Final Divorce Decree

In most cases, when two spouses reach an agreement on the division of property, it ultimately becomes part of the final divorce decree. But there's no guarantee that the judge in your case is going to accept the property split proposed by you both. That's because the judge has the final say on the terms of the divorce. Once a divorce decree is finalized, the marriage is terminated. The decree will include the final determination on how marital property is split, and will also list the responsibilities of both spouses after the marriage is over.

Changing the Agreement

Sometimes circumstances change after a decree is finalized. If a change in your life makes the terms of your divorce decree impossible to comply with, it is possible to amend the settlement agreement and petition the court to change the final decree. If both parties are in favor of the amendment, a joint amendment to the settlement agreement followed by a motion to modify the decree can make that change a reality. With that said, the judge is not required to modify a divorce decree even if both parties agree to it.

There are also options to altering a decree even if one party objects. If the divorce is contested and you disagree with the final decree entered by the court, you have the right to appeal the decision. The rules for filing an appeal are strict, so it's important that you file the appeal as soon as possible. If you don't file an appeal right away, however, it's not the end of the world. This type of case carry the same consequences as others, so again, if your circumstances change, you will still be able to petition to amend the decree.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.