A decree is an order handed down by a judge that resolves the issues in a court case. Though a decree is similar to a judgment, it differs in a few key ways. Historically, courts of equity, admiralty, divorce, or probate could make decrees while a court of law rendered judgments. After the passage of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which largely dissolved the distinction between courts of equity and law, most courts can now consider all remedies, including decrees. Note, however, that a decree is often still referred to as a judgment. A decree follows an assessment of the rights of involved parties. In addition, a decree can be used to address a right that is not recognized by common law. For example, a judge presiding over a court of equity may issue a decree in favor of specific performance as a remedy for a victorious party in a contract case. Decrees may also include directions that guide how they are to be applied, which adds to their utility as flexible remedies.
Some other examples of a decree include:
- An interlocutory decree operates as an intermediate judgment issued by a court that is not yet final.
- A consent decree is a court order to which all parties have agreed.
- A decree of distribution is a final court order that distributes a probate estate.
- A final decree is a final judgment in a court case.
- In cases involving child custody, a custody decree is an order that affects or determines the custody of a child.
[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]