The divorce certificate is a vital record issued by the state government offices stating the dissolution of a marriage between two parties.
This document includes information such as the complete names of both former spouses, and the date and place of the divorce.
In this article, we will explain you the difference between the divorce decree and certificate, what they are useful for, and how to obtain them.
It is important not to confuse the divorce decree with the divorce certificate. A divorce decree is an official document granting the dissolution of a marriage, and it is issued by a Court of Law. This document includes all technicalities about how the divorce was completed, either in court trial or by settlement. The divorce decree includes terms of agreement on spousal support or alimony, child support, child custody and visitation, property division, etc. It may also contain information on agreed terms for life and health insurance responsibility, the restoration of the wife’s maiden name, and debt division.
A divorce certificate is an extract or a less complete version of the divorce decree, and it is issued by a vital records office. This document states that the divorce occurred but does not include all details around the marriage termination proceeding. It is therefore important to find out which of these two documents you need a copy from for your procedures to avoid spending time and money in vain.
The most important purpose for a divorce decree is simply to ensure a divorce has been legalized by the signature of a Judge in a Court of Law, and therefore, be able to legally claim all obligations to which the parties agreed in the divorce process.
A divorce certificate may be needed for a number of purposes, such as getting a legal name change (e.g. if the wife wishes to take back her maiden name), for getting remarried, for applying for a permanent residence permit or Green card, for getting or renewing a travel visa or passport, to show you are single in inheritance procedures, for changing beneficiaries on insurance policies, for changing savings and checking accounts or credit cards to one of the spouses name only, etc.
To get a certified copy of a divorce decree, you will need to contact the clerk of the court or the county clerk’s office at the county or city where the divorce was granted. Usually it is only possible for the two parties in the divorce or their lawyers to get a copy of the divorce decree.
If you wish to get either a simple or a certified copy of a divorce certificate, you will need to contact the Vital Records office in the state where the divorce was granted.
Below, you will find a table in which you can find the office located at your State of interest:
Alternatively, a divorce record may be obtained from the county clerk at the county where marriage dissolution occurred. Depending on the place where the request is made, i.e. in the State Archives or at a local county office, records may vary widely in date and availability.
The application procedures, fees and processing times depend on the State or place of issuance, and they can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
To avoid an incomplete or delayed application process, the information you should have at hand when contacting the vital records office per mail or when presenting yourself in person is the following:
If your divorce occurred abroad, but your permanent residence is in the United States, you will need to contact the relevant American Embassy or Consulate to get a copy of your divorce decree. Also, if the country where the divorce took place is a member of the Hague Convention on the Authentication of Documents, it is possible for you to bring the divorce decree to a U.S. Embassy or consulate for authentication or certification.
If you want to get a copy of your divorce certificate, you may contact directly the civil registrar or court in the overseas country where the divorce was granted. If needed, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate of the foreign country in the USA may assist you on how to obtain copies of this official document.
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Administrative Procedures in other countries: