Differences Between Divorce Decrees and Divorce Certificates

By Anna Assad

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A divorce certificate and divorce decree show some of the same information about the divorce, but the documents come from two different places and often serve different purposes. The state vital statistics bureau, commonly a part of the state health department, issues divorce certificates, whereas a decree is available from the court that granted the divorce.

Divorce Certificate

A divorce certificate usually names both spouses, as well as the date and place the divorce was granted -- but typically no other information. Divorce certificates serve as proof the couple is no longer married. State laws vary with regard to who, other than the spouses involved or their attorneys, is allowed to get a copy of a divorce certificate. A divorced person may use a certificate as evidence of the divorce for various legal purposes. For example, a divorced person may need a certificate for the state motor vehicle department if she wants to change her married name on her license.

Divorce Decree

A divorce decree has the same information the divorce certificate does and summarized information from the divorce judgment. This document is signed by the judge and part of the divorce case file. Decrees also state the basic facts of the divorce and the court case number. For example, if one spouse was awarded spousal support, the decree will state which spouse pays and how much. All the terms of the divorce, such as child custody and property division, are outlined in the decree, as well as other issues the parties agreed on or the judge decided. Only one of the spouses involved or their attorney may request a decree copy in most cases. A divorced person may need the decree to check the divorce terms or to file an action in court that relates to the decree, such as a petition for modification of the original spousal support amount.

Divorce Record

The divorce record is the case file from the divorce. A divorce record has all the papers that were filed during the divorce, including sworn statements from the spouses, financial documentation and the divorce decree. A divorce record is available at the court that granted the divorce and usually only available to one of the former spouses or their legal representation. A divorced person might need her divorce record if she's challenging one or more decisions or agreements made in the original divorce or for personal record-keeping.


State vital statistic bureaus and court systems have varying identification requirements for copies of divorce decrees or certificates. Acceptable forms of identification typically include state photo identification or a United States passport.

Fees apply if you request copies of a divorce certificate, divorce decree or divorce record, but the cost varies by area. Some jurisdictions charge by the page. Certified copies with a court stamp often cost more than traditional photocopies.