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Where to find Divorce Records
Divorce records are files of all documents generated during a divorce or annulment of marriage. Divorce is the termination of the marital agreement between a couple to end their relationship as husband and wife legally. When a divorce occurs, the court preserves a complete record of the process, including all documents relating to the separation of the involved parties. Divorce records, also referred to as dissolution of marriage records, typically contain:
- The reasons for the divorce
- The names, addresses, occupations, and ages of all involved parties
- The date of the initial marriage
- The date that the court issued the divorce decree
Most significantly, divorce records include the divorce decree, which contains the agreements between the couple on essential issues about the continuance of their relationship as parents, rights and obligations, financial arrangements. The divorce certificate also forms part of the record.
Although divorces are court proceedings, the court system considers divorce records vital records. An uncontested divorce, or divorces in which the parties adopt alternative dispute resolution (ADR) tools to achieve an amicable divorce, can file for divorce in court. The judge then signs and issues the final divorce decree, which serves as the court's complete and final order. A divorce decree makes a divorce official. The court's decision to grant a divorce cannot be reversed if a couple settles their disputes after the court issues a divorce decree. In compliance with federal and state law, courts maintain divorce decrees and other documents generated during a divorce case.
Are Divorce Records Public?
Each state in the US has an open records law per the Federal Freedom of Information Act. Under open records law regulations, court records, including divorce records, are accessible to the public. Public divorce records are accessible to every person, including news media outlets, firms, corporations, professional organizations, and associations. Specific states place public information access restrictions on incarcerated persons, non-citizens of the US, and persons below 18 or 21, depending on the age of majority recognized by the state's law.
In many states, certified divorce records are protected from the public. Divorce decrees contain private information, often concerning the divorced spouse's children, property, and financial distribution information. Certain court documents such as the complaints filed by the petitioner, the response, and evidence presented in court also contain the parties' personal information. The court usually only issues a divorce decree or provides access to confidential information relating to a divorce to either of the divorced spouses, their attorneys, or another legal representative of the parties.
Publicly available divorce records are also managed and disseminated by some third-party aggregate sites. These sites are generally not limited by geographical record availability and may serve as a reliable jump-off point when researching specific or multiple records. However, third-party sites are not government-sponsored. As such, record availability may differ from official channels. The requesting party will be required to provide the following information to find a record using the search engines on third party sites:
- The location of the record in question, including the city, county, or state where the case was filed.
- The name of someone involved, providing it is not a juvenile.
How to Find Divorce Records
Typically, divorce records can be obtained online, by mail, or in person. Depending on when the party or parties filed the divorce and in which state and county the court granted the divorce, divorce records can be accessed online using the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system or the state or national archives. Members of the public can utilize archives to search for divorce records, but records regarding recent divorces may not be available. For recent divorces, it is possible to query PACER. To access a physical copy of a divorce record or a divorce decree, interested persons should find the court clerk in the county where the divorce was finalized.
How to Obtain Divorce Records
Obtaining public divorce records can be straightforward, as long as the requesting party has the precise information needed regarding how to find the divorce records. The information necessary to acquire divorce records includes the state or county where parties filed the divorce, the dates, and names. A helpful strategy may be to start from where the parties resided. Under many state laws, a person may only file for divorce if they have been resident in that state for a minimum amount of time, usually between 90 to 360 days. Other states only require six weeks.
The applicant may search the county court's website, the state or national archives, or the federal PACER system for divorce records online. For most requests, archive websites may require the applicant to provide the case number for the divorce case. Also, information accessible may not include recent divorce records. Online divorce record lookups may not provide a copy of the divorce decree or divorce certificate. Parties can find physical and certified copies of public divorce records at the court clerk's office in the relevant county where the court heard the divorce case. Performing a manual divorce lookup necessitates that the searching party knows specific case information on the documents of interest. The court may also not have the specific records being requested. Typically, court clerks allow requests to be made through the mail or in person. Many clerk's offices maintain statewide divorce records on computer databases. If a party does not know exactly which county the court granted the divorce, they can visit the clerk's office and find out if the state has a centralized database. The clerk can then direct parties on how to access the required documents. The court clerk may be able to inform parties on how to find divorce records online for free. However, even free divorce records often come with small costs and fees.
How Do I Get a Copy of My Divorce Decree Online?
Depending on the state, a divorce decree is also referred to as a divorce judgment or final decree of divorce. Divorce decrees are the court certificates issued to both spouses upon finalizing a divorce and serve as the legal proof of the judge's decision. The judgment is signed by the judge and entered into the court records system. Parties who lose their divorce decrees will need to provide a driver's license or state identification and the divorce case number to obtain a divorce decree copy. The first step in ordering a copy of your divorce decree online is finding the correlating website of the court that finalized the divorce.
Generally, divorce decrees, like complete divorce records, are publically available. However, some states limit access to divorce decrees. Accessing the decree may require further court approval.
What are Sealed Divorce Records?
Depending on the state in which the divorce was filed, divorce certificates are typically public. They are accessible to anyone interested and knows where and how to find the divorce records. However, a party or both parties to a divorce may request that the court seals the divorce record. Once sealed, divorce records become confidential information protected from the public. The court may order a specific portion of the whole court records on the divorce to be sealed when the party or parties requesting the sealing have convinced the judge by showing unusual circumstances, providing sufficient justification and motion or application to seal, as provided under the law or applicable regulations.
A judge is more likely to agree with the application to seal divorce records or redact information if the record includes:
- Details of minors
- Financial and proprietary information of a company
- Information that could make parties vulnerable and cause them harm when exposed to the public is protected, such as a person's social security number
- Information regarding a victim of child abuse or domestic violence
- Details of a party's mental illness or addiction of a spouse
- Potential false allegations
How to Obtain Sealed Divorce Records
Step 1: Establish a Compelling Reason
The first step to obtaining sealed divorce records is to establish a compelling reason. Parties must identify and present crucial and sufficient reasons for requesting sealed divorce records to be open. The court judge has to be convinced that there is justification for unsealing the records. Follow applicable laws and guidelines.
Step 2: Learn More About the Requirements
The second step in obtaining divorce records that are sealed is to learn more about the requirements. Parties must understand the legal requirements for unsealing court records in the State of interest. Many state courts can unseal divorce records if they see fit or if prompted by a petition to do so. A person requesting the court to unseal records must file a notice or petition to unseal and serve the same to all parties in the case.
Documents, motions, answers, and supporting documents relating to the request to unseal must be filed in a redacted or completely sealed version, in compliance with the sealing of the divorce documents. Once a divorce record is partially or fully sealed, all documents referring to it must be treated and documented in the same manner, with the same level of confidentiality as the sealed divorce records, until they are unsealed.
In states where no motion form is available to fill out, writing a formal letter to the Judge may be allowed. The letter must contain an introduction of the applicant, a description of requested documents, and reasons for the request to unseal. Parties must send the letter to the proper court where the records were sealed. The applicant may also consult with a lawyer or perform research to prepare a motion citing legal authority and support for the request to unseal.
It may be necessary to notarize the petition or motion as the legal backing for the request. Presenting a valid and acceptable identification is very important.
Step 3: Attend the Hearing
The third step in obtaining sealed divorce records is attending the hearing. Once a motion is filed, the court will notify the applicant of the hearing date. At the hearing, the applicant will have a chance to make their position known, and if there is no successful opposition and the court is convinced, the court may issue an order to unseal after the hearing or at a later date.
Step 4: Review and Understand the Court Order
Lastly, it is essential for requesting parties to review and fully understand the court order. When the court gives an order to unseal divorce records, the order must clearly state the reasons for unsealing. The order must also specify whether the records are fully or partially unsealed to the public or a particular person.
Does the U.S Recognize Common-Law Marriages?
Common law marriages are recognized in Washington, D.C, and across multiple U.S states, including Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Rhode Island. Common-law unions are also considered valid in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Ohio—as long as the union was made before a specific date. Each of these states has specific requirements that need to be met before the creation of common-law marriage. If found to be valid, common-law marriages from these states may be used for official tasks, such as security residency and federal income tax purposes.