Differences Between Divorce Decrees and Divorce Certificates

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Differences Between Divorce Decrees and Divorce Certificates

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Divorce decree and divorce certificate are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are different documents issued by different entities. If you are in the process of getting a divorce or were previously divorced and need to obtain documentation of the outcome, understanding the distinction between divorce decrees and divorce certificates may help you understand which document you need and where to obtain it.

Hands crossed on a document next to a pen and wedding bands

Included Information

A divorce decree provides the court's ruling ending the marriage and details each party's obligations and rights with respect to key decisions in the divorce.

When a couple has minor children, the divorce decree includes decisions about custody, parenting time, and child support. Divorce decrees also document the division of the couple's assets and liabilities. If the judge awards spousal maintenance or alimony, that determination appears in the divorce decree too. If a divorcing woman wants to begin using her maiden name again and makes that request during the divorce proceedings, the divorce decree documents her name change. As the official ruling in your divorce case, the decree includes the court-assigned file or case number.

In contrast, a divorce certificate is a much simpler document. The certificate typically includes only the names of both parties, the date of the divorce, and the jurisdiction (location) of the divorce.

Issuing Entity

You and your spouse should have received a divorce decree at the end of your divorce. A divorce decree is a formal order of the court, signed by a judge or authorized representative of the court for your county or jurisdiction.

However, not every state issues divorce certificates. If your state does issue them, you can obtain a divorce certificate from the state Vital Records Department or state Department of Health.

When Obtained

There are several reasons you may need either a certified copy of your divorce decree or a divorce certificate. The most common reasons include:

  • Immigration matters, including visas and citizenship
  • Showing proof of a name change authorized in the divorce
  • Social Security Administration requests
  • Summary and conclusion
  • Remarriage

After a divorce is over, both of the parties and their attorneys receive the divorce decree. If an outside party needs to see evidence of your divorce for one of the above-listed reasons or for any other reason, you can provide them with either a plain copy or a certified copy of your divorce decree, depending on the third party's requirements. A certified copy is simply a copy that the court authenticates as being true, correct, and complete. It may include the court's stamp or seal. Expect to pay a fee to the court when requesting a certified copy.

If you live in a state that issues divorce certificates and need to show documentation of your divorce, you can contact your state's Department of Health or Department of Vital Records, complete a request form providing requested information about the divorce, and pay the required document fee.

Divorce is often stressful, but obtaining proof of your divorce should not be. Whether you need a copy of your divorce decree or a divorce certificate, you can get one by providing some basic information.

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.