Published Sept 13, 2021
Divorce is the termination of a marriage or marital union; it legally ends a marriage, unlike an annulment that declares the marriage void. All countries allow it except the Philippines and the Vatican City.
Divorce records consist of all the details about the separation, such as the reason for marriage dissolution. It also includes other important information like the agreement on spousal support, child support, custody, visitation, and property division. Have you ever wondered how to find divorce records in the U.S.?
How did Divorce Records become Court Records?
Divorce paperwork must be filed in court. When the judge issued the divorce decree, the divorce would be official. The divorce decree is the final judgment of the court on your marriage dissolution. Once the divorce decree is issued, it’s not reversible if the couple changes their mind. They have to remarry.
Federal and state laws state that any documents related to the divorce must be kept by the courts. So even divorce records are court records; it’s not considered vital records.
Who can Access Divorce Records?
Divorce records are considered public records, which means everyone can have access to this kind of document. This may include media, firms, corporations, professional organizations, and associations. However, some courts implement restrictions on who can have access to public records.
In many states, divorce records are strictly kept by the public. As a result, divorce records or decrees contain personal information from both parties that might be confidential.
The court usually gives access to divorce records to the following:
- Both of the divorced individuals
- Proven attorney for either spouse with the authority of the spouse to access records
- A representative of either spouse with a letter of authority certified by the notary public and signed by the spouse
How to find divorce records?
Finding any type of court record is difficult as the document may be confidential. Fortunately, filing a divorce requires the couple to be a state resident for a specific number of days. So finding out where the divorced couple resided can be a great start, especially if you don’t know much about them. Here are some options you can try to find divorce records:
- Many websites now offer instant access to divorce records. You can easily view the basic information of the divorce like the case number, name of both parties, and the year it was issued.
- Divorce papers can be found online on the County court’s website or the State’s archives online. However, they may require the case number of the divorce like in Colorado. The information available in these archives may not yet include recent divorce records. The court can assist with a fee if the applicant is unable to provide the case number.
In New Jersey, divorce decrees can be found in the Superior Court of the New Jersey Records Center. In Maryland, the original divorce decree can only be acquired from the Circuit Court that granted the decree.
- The majority of states may allow people to have access to limited information about divorce records online. However, they won’t provide a copy of the divorce decree unless the interested person asks permission from the office of the Court Clerk of the county where the divorce was filed.
- If the divorce was filed only in the State of interest, you could ask the clerk if the particular state keeps the divorce records and how you can conduct a search with the State Office of Vital Statistics. The search may provide basic information about the divorce.
Sealed Divorce Records
Sealed Divorce Records were ordered by the court to be private and confidential. This kind of record is not considered a public record, unlike other divorce records. The court can order the entire record to be under the seal or just parts of it. The parties can also request for the records to be sealed. They must convince the judge on why it needs to be a private record.
Reasons for Sealing Divorce Records
Here are some of the common reasons why judges seal divorce records:
- Financial and proprietary information of the company
- Minors — the court is always protective when it comes to the identity of children in a divorce
- Confidential information such as a person’s social security number
- Mental illness or addiction of either spouse
- Privacy protection of the victim if they experience domestic violence or child abuse
- To prevent false allegations from protecting the concerned party from possible damage to reputation
How can I Obtain Sealed Divorce Records?
Step 1: Identify a significant Reason
Identify why you want your record to be a public record and present it to the court. The reason why you want to unseal the records must be convincing and appropriate for the judge. If you have an acceptable excuse, the judge may open your record.
Step 2: Research the laws in unsealing records
You must analyze and study the legal requirements for unsealing court records in the State of interest. In every state, there is a proper procedure for unsealing records.
In California, courts can unseal divorce records in their own volition or, if prompted by a petition, according to their rules in sealed records. Anyone that wants to unseal records must file a petition, and the same goes for all parties in the case.
All documents relating to sealed divorce records must be treated as confidential and/or sealed documents. It’s also possible to write a formal letter directly to the judge. The letter must include an introduction of the applicant, the reasons for the request to unseal, and the description of the document. It must be submitted to the court where the divorce records are sealed.
If the applicant wants assistance, it’s possible to consult with a lawyer to help you prepare a motion and cite legal authority to unseal.
Presenting a valid identification and a notarized petition is necessary.
Step 3: Go to the Hearing
Once the motion is filed, a hearing will be scheduled. At the hearing, the applicant can justify her reasons thoroughly. If the court is convinced and there is no opposition, the court may order to unseal the record after the hearing or later.
Step 4: Review the Court Order
Once the court issues the order, it must include further details like the reason for unsealing the record and the people who can access the record. The unsealed record can be fully or partially unsealed to a specific person or the public, depending on the court order.