decree, in law, decision of a suit in a court of equity. It is the counterpart in equity of the judgment in a court of law, although in those jurisdictions where law and equity have merged, judgment is sometimes used to include both. The difference between the two, however, is fundamental. A judgment must be unconditionally for one party or another, but a decree is adaptable to the peculiar necessities of each case and may include rights and duties of both parties. A decree may impose conditions on its enforcement upon either party. The decree may act against the person of the defendant; it is not restricted to the award of money damages. It may contain an injunction against the performance of certain acts. One of the most familiar of the decrees given by courts of equity is the decree of divorce, adjudicating the dissolution of a marriage and awarding alimony. Decrees are enforced by proceedings for contempt of court.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.