You have been to court, had your hearing and the judge has granted the divorce. Now what? Most people believe that once the judge rules and bangs the gavel, the case is over. Not true. The judge must sign an order called a Final Decree of Divorce. Until the Final Decree is signed and filed with the clerk, you are not divorced. One more thing. It is the responsibility of the lawyers to type up the Final Decree of Divorce and present it to the judge to be signed.
Often, when the divorce is uncontested, the attorneys will prepare the Final Decree and have it ready before the case is presented to the judge. In most of those cases, the judge will sign the Final Decree of Divorce at the same time the divorce is granted. Occasionally, even when the case is uncontested, the judge will require the attorneys to change something about the Final Decree. In those cases, the attorneys must re-draft the Final Decree to conform to the judge’s instructions. This can take anywhere from several days to several weeks or longer, depending upon the attorneys’ schedules and the court’s calendar.
In contested divorces where the court must hear evidence and rule on one or more issues, the judge will often prepare the Final Decree and mail it to the attorneys. Sometimes, the judge will hear the evidence, announce the ruling after the trial, and then require the attorneys to type the order setting forth what the judge ruled.
Lawyers are human—busy humans. Often the typing of orders gets put on the back burner. Occasionally, an attorney will forget about the need to type the order and return it to the judge for signature. In fact, there are documented cases where an attorney forgot about typing the Final Decree and the client, thinking they were divorced, got remarried only to find out years later they were never divorced.
Even after the Final Decree is signed by the judge and filed with the clerk of the court, the divorce is not final. A party has thirty days after the filing of the Final Decree to ask the judge to make changes or to appeal the judges ruling to a higher court. This is almost never done in an uncontested divorce. If the divorce is contested, however, there is a much better chance the loser will appeal the case. When this happens, your divorce is not final. If you attempt to get remarried during the thirty day period, you might find yourself married to two people. That would not be good. It is better to wait until after thirty days have passed and the divorce has become final before tying the knot again.
As a consumer of legal services, you should take a pro-active role in your relationship with your attorney. Insist that your attorney send you the documents that are filed in your case. Demand copies of letters and emails sent to the opposing attorney. Especially demand a copy of the Final Decree showing the judge’s signature. Remember, this is your case. Your lawyer works for you. The file your lawyer keeps is yours.