A divorce decree or final decree of divorce is a legal document signed by the judge that officially terminates the marriage. The divorce decree typically includes the judge’s ruling on all matters related to the marriage and any minor children—including division of marital or community property, payment of marital or community debts, spousal support, child custody, child visitation, child support, any obligation to provide health insurance for minor children, and the payment of extracurricular expenses for minor children.
These determinations or rulings set forth in the divorce decree become legally enforceable obligations when the judge signs the divorce decree—and may be enforced by further legal action in the court if one or both of the former spouses fail to comply with the terms of the divorce decree.
As time passes and the life circumstances of the former spouses and their children (if any) change, a former spouse may seek to modify the terms of the divorce decree by filing a petition to modify the divorce decree. The divorce decree terms most often sought to be modified are spousal support, child custody or visitation, and child support. A former spouse generally must wait some prescribed period of time (e.g., one year) after the court signs the divorce decree before seeking to modify it—and the petition to modify must be based on a material and substantial change in the relevant circumstances.
Laws regarding the circumstances under which a former spouse may seek to modify a divorce decree vary from state to state and are usually located in the state’s statutes—often in the family or domestic relations code.