Legal Insurance

Divorce Decrees vs. Divorce Certificates: Key Differences

4 min read
Feb 08, 2023

If you’ve decided to get a divorce, you likely want to make the process as simple as possible.

There are many documents to review and sign (which a divorce or civil lawyer can help you navigate) to finalize a divorce. Two specific documents, divorce decrees and divorce certifications, are important to understand.

Learn how they compare below.

What is a divorce decree?

A divorce decree is a court order that officially ends a marriage.1 It contains all the information of a case and the court’s ruling surrounding a divorce. This document typically includes a complete list of the agreed-upon terms of a divorce, such as child support, alimony, division of property, insurance coverage, financial obligations, custody, and other information.

A divorce decree is court-issued. If a case goes to trial, a judge determines the terms of the divorce. If the case is settled by the couple, a judge will simply review the legality and fairness of the settlement before approving it. Once approved, a divorce decree is binding and will enforce what both parties are legally responsible for going forward.

Why might you need a divorce decree?

A divorce decree is primarily used to finalize a divorce. There are certain situations where a copy may be required. Consider some of the following reasons:

  • Your spouse isn’t fulfilling their responsibilities: If your spouse isn't complying with the orders outlined in the divorce decree, you can use the decree to file a motion to the court asking them to enforce the order.
  • Name change: If you want to change your name, you need to request a name change during the court proceedings. If a judge signs off on it, you can use the divorce decree to officially change your name with the Social Security Administration.
  • You need proof of your divorce: There are many situations in which you may need to prove that your divorce was finalized. For example, you may need a divorce decree to close a joint bank account, refinance a home, or revise the terms of estate planning documents.
  • You want to remarry: To get remarried and apply for a new marriage license, you'll need to show a copy of your divorce decree. It’s illegal to marry a new spouse without being legally divorced from the former spouse in the United States.

How to get a copy of your divorce decree 

Typically, the court will mail you a certified copy of your divorce decree or let you know when it’s ready to be picked up. You can also request a copy from the court clerk's office in the county where the decree was issued.

What is a divorce certificate?

Unlike a divorce decree, a divorce certificate isn’t a court-ordered document. A divorce certificate is an official document that’s issued by a state's bureau of vital records.1 It’s mostly intended for record-keeping and contains only the basic information of the divorce proceedings, such as names of those involved and the date and location of the divorce.

Why may you need a divorce certificate?

If you want to show proof of divorce, without revealing all the personal information disclosed in a divorce decree, you can use a divorce certificate in many situations. A divorce certificate typically can be used for the following:

  • Obtaining a passport
  • Getting a travel visa
  • Applying for a marriage certificate
  • Changing your name
  • Proving you’re no longer married

How to get a copy of your divorce certificate

Not all states issue divorce certificates. But for those that do, you can typically get a free copy from your state’s office of vital records. You’ll typically need to request a copy either online or in writing.


Divorce decree

Divorce certificate

Issued by

The court

A state's bureau of vital records

Used to

Officially terminate a marriage

Provide proof of a divorce

Document contains

Detailed information that reveals all the specifics of the case and the court’s ruling. 

Basic information that identifies the people involved and the date and location of the proceedings.

How to request a copy

Contact the court clerk's office in the county where the decree was issued.

Contact your state’s office of vital records.

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1 How to get a copy of a divorce decree or certificate,

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