Public Records & Online Genealogy Resources

Home > Guide to Divorce Records

Divorce Records

Divorce is not typically one of the happier times in a person’s life, but documentation of this event is just as important as a birth or marriage. Divorce records are required if either spouse ever wants to get remarried and are often used during the settlement process as property is divided up and custody of children is awarded. Divorce records may be matter of public record or sealed at the request of the individuals involved in the divorce. You may be searching for divorce records of your own for personal reasons, or for a family member in the event of a genealogy search. No matter why you might be searching for these documents, it is helpful to know where they are stored and what is required to obtain copies.

Types of Divorce Records

Divorce RecordsDivorce records that contain sensitive information about children or financial statistics may be restricted to those directly involved in the event. This type of divorce record is typically the one that is needed for legal purposes, such as to show a first marriage was legally ended before a second marriage can take place. Another type of divorce record may also be available, which shows basic information like the names of the husband and wife, the date of the divorce and the location where it was filed. These types of divorce records are available to the general public and may be used primarily for background and genealogical searches.

Information Found in Records

The final record of a divorce is known as the divorce decree. This document contains all the information about the divorce, including property division, child custody, alimony and child support and visitation. This decree is issued by the court, but it can be modified at the request of one or both of the parties involved. For example, custody or visitation of the children may change based on a change in one parent’s situation or the best interests of the children. This divorce decree may be kept on file at more than one location, for easy access at a later date. Most of the other terms of the divorce decree are usually considered permanent and are not altered.

Locations for Divorce Records

Divorce records are often stored at both the state and county level. Since the divorce was probably finalized in a county courtroom, that court is usually the office that keeps the original decree on file. If the husband or wife needs an official copy of that decree, they will more than likely have to contact the county court office directly. The court will also more than likely charge a fee for the copy.

Divorce records are often stored at the state level as well, usually through the state’s health department, with other vital records like birth and death certificates and marriage licenses. These records may be available online or by mail or phone through the state office. Some state departments of health offer online search mechanisms that allow for free public records searches and copies of documents to be downloaded directly from an individual’s computer.

Restriction to Divorce Records Access

Many states restrict access to official divorce records, due to the sensitive nature of the information provided. In these cases, the only persons who are allowed access to the documents are the husband and wife on the document and possibly the children of the couple. Legal representatives of any of these individuals can also gain access to divorce records on behalf of their clients. These restrictions may have a time frame of anywhere from 25 to 75 years after the date the divorce was finalized. Couples can also request to have divorce records sealed, if the separation was a particularly painful or to protect the children involved. In this case, no records of the divorce will be available to the public.

Online Divorce Records Search

One of the easiest ways to launch a divorce records search today is through the Internet. Many online archive services offer the ability to search for divorce records right from the comfort of home. In many cases, you only need the names of the individuals and an approximate date of the divorce to find the document you are looking for. However, the more information you have about the event, the more accurate your search will be. These online searches typically offer basic information about the divorce, but do not provide access to the official divorce decree. Those conducting genealogy services will find free public records they can download and print right on their own computers.