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US Divorce Certificate

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What is a Divorce Certificate?

A divorce certificate is an official document containing information about the dissolution of a marriage or civil union. Like other public divorce records, a divorce certificate proves that a divorce has been finalized. All divorce documents (including a divorce decree) will be generated at the state and county levels by the Vital Records custodian following a divorce proceeding.

The terms "divorce certificate" and "certificate of dissolution of marriage" interchangeably, depending on the state. A divorce certificate may also be referred to as a certificate of record, divorce verification letter, dissolution of marriage verification, or certificate of dissolution of marriage. Regardless of what state a divorce certificate is obtained from, it typically contains the following information:

  • The names of the divorced partners
  • Date of divorce
  • The location of the divorce (such as the name of the state and county)

Are Divorce Certificates Public Record?

It depends on the state that maintains the divorce certificate. Each US state has unique laws that determine whether divorce certificates are public or private information in the state. For instance, divorce certificates are considered public information in California under the Government Code § 7920.000 et seq (the California public records act or CPRA). Under this act, court records are public information that the general public can access without restrictions. In California, divorce records, including divorce certificates, are categorized as court records, making these records public.

However, other states, like New York, restrict access to divorce certificates. Only the spouses named on the record and people with a New State court order can obtain copies of a divorce certificate in New York. These eligible persons are also required to submit certain forms of identification when ordering copies of these certificates, including driver's licenses, passports, and officially recognized alternatives to these.

On the other hand, most divorce decrees are deemed public records since they rarely contain the parties' personal information. These are held in the county clerk's office or the courthouse in the county where the divorce was granted.

Where Can I Get a Divorce Certificate?

Interested persons can typically order divorce certificates from the vital records custodian office of the state where the certificate was issued. These custodians are usually the Department of Health’s Vital Record Division in most states, and they hold all vital documents, including death records, marriage records, birth records and divorce records. For instance, in Texas, record seekers can query the state Department of Health Vital Statistics Division to get a divorce certificate as well as a birth certificate, death certificate, or any other vital record.

Some states may also issue divorce certificates through state courts. For instance, in California, the clerk’s offices of Superior courts are responsible for maintaining and issuing divorce certificates recorded after June 1984. Hence, record seekers can query the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to obtain divorce certificates for divorces that occurred between 1962 to June 1984. However, divorce certificates for marriages ending in divorce after 1984 are available through the county's Superior Court clerk’s office where the divorce was finalized.

Some third-party websites also provide online services record seekers can use to order and get copies of divorce certificates in the US.

How to Get a Divorce Certificate

In the US, divorce certificates are issued and maintained at the state level, typically by the state custodian of vital records. This is usually the Department of Health’s Vital Records Division in most states. Fortunately, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information on the state agencies through which interested persons can obtain vital records (including divorce certificates). Interested persons can find this information on the “Where to Write for Vital Records” page of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics page. Note that the court system of some states, like California, also maintains divorce certificates in certain situations.

Generally, the ways and methods through which divorce certificates are dispensed or can be ordered by records seekers typically vary by state. Most states allow unrestricted access to divorce certificates. However, in some US states, only eligible persons can get a copy of a divorce certificate. For instance, in New York, only persons with a New York state court order or spouses named on the certificate can order a copy of a divorce certificate in the state. Many other states (such as California, Florida, and Texas) allow unrestricted access to divorce records issued in their respective state.

Most state vital records custodians typically provide application forms record seekers can complete and submit via mail or in person at the custodian's office to request divorce certificates. These application forms are usually available on the custodian's website. For instance, record seekers can find this form in California on the state Department of Public Health (CDPH) vital record page. Another example is New York state, where this form is available for download on the New York State Department of Health’s divorce certificate page.

Vital record custodians also typically require record seekers to submit a form of identification and pay a request fee along with their completed application to order a divorce certificate. Common examples of these forms of identification include a driver’s license, state-issued ID card, and passport. The search fee usually varies by state. For instance, California's vital record custodian charges $16 per copy of a certificate requested. Meanwhile, Florida’s custodian charges $5 and Texas's custodian charges $20 per copy. Vital record custodians typically do not accept cash payments. Payments are usually made by check or money order payable to the custodian’s office. A completed application, a copy of the requester identification, and the required fee must be mailed or submitted in person to the custodian’s office to complete the process.

Some third-party websites also provide services that allow users to order divorce certificates in the US. These websites are typically not sponsored by the government. Hence, the accuracy and availability of certificates ordered through these sites are not guaranteed.

What is a Dissolution of Marriage Certificate?

Both "divorce certificate" and "certificate of dissolution of marriage" refer to the same legal document, which gives basic details regarding a divorce that has been legally formalized. A dissolution of a marriage certificate is an informative document that proves that a divorce has been finalized.

How Can I Get a Certificate of Dissolution of Marriage?

Requesting a divorce certificate is the same as requesting a certificate of dissolution of marriage because the terms "certificate of dissolution of marriage" and "divorce certificate" mean the same thing. As mentioned earlier, divorce certificates are maintained at the state level in the US, usually by the vital record custodian of a state. Hence, interested persons can obtain a divorce certificate by querying the vital record custodian of a state. Specific divorce certificates are also maintained by the state's court system in some states (such as California).

What is the Difference Between a Divorce Decree and a Divorce Certificate?

A divorce decree is a court order that formally ends a marriage and provides proof of a divorce. Meanwhile, a divorce certificate only acts as proof of a divorce. The fact that a divorce certificate generally can exist without a divorce decree is a key distinction between the two legal records. Other differences between both documents include the following:

  • Sources: US divorce decrees are court-issued documents issued by a state-local court system. On the other hand, divorce decrees are usually generated and issued by a state’s vital record custodian.
  • Each document's details: Divorce decrees typically contain more information than divorce certificates. The divorcees' names, the divorce date, and the divorce's location are the only details included on most divorce certificates in the US. On the other hand, a divorce decree is an extensive document that contains not only basic information regarding the divorce but also the terms of the divorce. A divorce decree outlines the divorcee's future legal responsibilities, including visitation rights, child support, alimony, and child(ren) custody (if any).
  • Uses: a divorce certificate is strictly an informative document that can serve as proof of a divorce for different purposes in an individual’s everyday life. A divorce certificate can serve as sufficient proof of a divorce when applying for a passport or visa, for inheritance purposes, and conducting name changes, amongst other uses. On the other hand, a divorce decree is a legally binding document that record holders can use to enforce the terms of a divorce.

Ultimately, a divorce certificate is a vital record document and/or certified copy of a divorce record. However, a divorce decree is a court document that contains binding provision per state statutes.

How Can I Get My Divorce Certificate Online?

Some state vital record custodians provide online portals interested parties can use to order divorce certificates online. An example of such a portal is the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) 24/7 online portal. Through this portal, interested persons can order divorce certificates issued in Texas. Other states, like Oregon and New York, provide online access to divorce certificates through third-party websites. However, in most cases, divorce certificates are only obtainable through in-person and mailed-in requests sent to a state’s vital record custodian. Record seekers can contact a state vital records custodian to inquire whether they provide online options for ordering divorce certificates. Interested persons can find each state's vital record custodian through the “Where to Write for Vital Records” page of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics webpage.

Where Can I Get a Copy of My Divorce Papers?

Interested persons can obtain a copy of their divorce papers in the US by querying the court clerk’s office where they filed for divorce. Depending on the state, this court may be a District Court, a Superior court, or a Probate Court. For instance, in California, interested persons can get copies of their divorce papers through the Superior Court that issued their divorce decree. Meanwhile, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, record seekers can obtain copies of their divorce records through the Probate and Family Court, where their case was heard.