With a hefty slice of American marriages ending in divorce, it isn't unusual that you may need to review someone's divorce records. Like most court records, divorce records are usually public, meaning that they're open to viewing by members of the public. Some states or counties make review easy by posting an online database of divorce filings. To review divorce records in other locations, you may have to visit the courthouse where the records are stored.
Where Can I Find Divorce Records for Free?
Can you review divorce records for free? The answer is almost always yes. Divorce actions are court cases, and, like most court filings, divorce proceedings are usually public documents, open to review by members of the public.
There are exceptions. Courts have the authority to file divorce records under seal if one of the parties requests it and presents a persuasive case that confidential or sensitive information in the records should be kept private. These motions are often made to protect children and victims of sexual abuse.
But the fact that divorce records are public does not mean that they're necessarily easy to access. Free divorce decree records may be available for review online, but not always. It's still a good place to begin your search.
Looking for Divorce Records Online
Obviously, it's easier, cheaper and faster to review an online database of free divorce decree records. In order to figure out if that's going to be possible, you'll need to know where the divorce you're interested in took place. Get as much detail about the jurisdiction and timing as you can, as well as the names of the parties and the case number, if possible. The more data you start with, the less time you'll spend searching.
Keep in mind that states have different rules and procedures regarding filing court records. In some areas, court records, such as divorce records, are kept at the state level, but others keep them at the county level. Start by determining which is the case for the jurisdiction of interest. Search the state's judicial records website for information, then the county court's website. If you aren't able to find what you're looking for, place a call to the county clerk where the divorce took place. The clerks should be able to tell you whether the divorce records are available online and, if so, where to look.
Visiting the Courthouse
If you learn that the records are not available online, you may need to visit the courthouse where they're kept. In many states you can order a divorce verification that establishes the fact and date of a divorce, but it usually comes at a price. To view the same document for free, simply walk into the courthouse during business hours with identifying information about the divorce. Ask the court clerk to bring you the file for review. You will be allowed to work at a table in the area and can pay the clerk to copy particular pages if you like.
- Viewing divorce records is a free service. If you want copies of the documents, you must pay printing and/or certification fees.
- Procedures may vary depending on the county in question. If you have questions about the procedures in a specific district county clerk’s office, contact them during office hours.
With a Master's in English, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's law school, Teo Spengler is up on education. She splits her home time between San Francisco and France. A perpetual student and frequent teacher, she is also a writer and world traveler. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Fairmont Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites.