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Under The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, any person has the right to request access to public records: criminal records, arrests & warrants, inmate records, vital records & more.

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Understanding Public Divorce Records

At some point in time, you may have a reason to need access to public divorce records.  Although these records are a matter of public domain, they do contain very personal information that can only be accessed by certain parties. They may be filed in the corresponding state and/or county offices where the divorce occurred, and can be accessed by the parties named on the record, their attorneys, or anyone with a court order to receive a copy.

Public Divorce Records at the State Level

Every state is different when it comes to filing divorce records and maintaining copies of divorce certificates. If the state government determines that these will be held at the state level, they will often be found with the Department of Health or Vital Records Office. A simple Internet search should tell you if your state will offer these to you, or if you must go directly to the county where the divorce took place.

State divorce records will often only consist of a divorce certificate, which offers very limited information. The date of the finalized divorce approved by the court, as well as the two parties’ names is usually all the information that is found in a certificate. The state will often designate the county offices to file the actual divorce decree.

Divorce Decrees are Typically County Public Divorce Records

If you need to find a divorce decree and the state does not retain this information, you will often be directed to the county courthouse where the divorce was finalized. The County Clerk is often responsible for holding county divorce records, which include very detailed information about the divorce.

Every arrangement related to the divorce such as property and debt division, child custody and visitation rights, and child or alimony support are all found in the divorce decree. Court hearings and dates, the presiding judge and respective legal representatives are also found in this decree. Other steps in the divorce proceedings such as legal separations, waiting periods and any alternative dispute resolution attempts can also be found here. An official seal and signature found in this document from the judge makes the divorce final and legal.

Marriage vs. Divorce Public Records

The biggest difference between marriage and divorce records is who can access them and where they are held. General marriage record information can be accessed by virtually anyone conducting genealogical research, and detailed marriage records are available to immediate relatives of the couple.

Conversely, public divorce records are typically only provided to the couple, their attorneys and anyone possessing a court order to retrieve them. Since the passing of the Freedom of Information Act, however, the general public may be able to access general information regarding a divorce such as the date and parties involved; the corresponding government will generally protect only very sensitive personal information.

Special Circumstances

If a couple was divorced in a different country, accessing these records may or may not be considered a public matter. In this case, the corresponding country’s government will deem whether or not you can access these records and how you must request them.

How to Request Public Divorce Records

Every state, county and city government domain will require different forms to request a copy of public divorce records. Many will allow you to request them via fax, mail or phone. However, most citizens needing access to public divorce records will do so online through a public records search engine.

Regardless of the reasons you need to access public divorce records, it’s important to understand that the rules and regulations for each local government must be followed. With a little research, you should be able to determine if you need to address the county or state offices to request copies of your final divorce records, and the documentation needed to do so.



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