Given that court proceedings are generally public records, divorce records are public as well, at least in most jurisdictions and unless a court seals them. Identification of victims of sexual abuse and of children are exceptions to open records.
One can look for such records in many ways. You can search for divorce records online – sometimes, a comprehensive Google search is all you need to find those that interest you. You can use a government service or partner with a company to do the work of exploring public databases for you.
It won’t be difficult to find records if you dispose of sufficient information, which includes the person’s full name, birth date, and where they were divorced (the county or state).
Why Track Down Divorce Records?
There are actually quite a few good reasons to do this. If you’ve been divorced and want to remarry, you’ll have to furnish proof that you’re not married to tie the knot again. The best way to verify divorce is obviously through a divorce decree or certificate.
It’s also commonplace to change your name after marriage. Women will usually opt to take their maiden name again. You need to show a divorce certificate to change your name on a property deed, vehicle title, or a state-issued ID.
Divorce decrees provide the details of separation. If you want to take legal action against a former spouse for violating the settlement terms, you’ll need to verify them yourself. You may have lost your copy of the decree. Obviously, it’s important to safekeep these things, but that’s not to say they can’t be found.
Family Line Research
Finally, you might want to find divorce records as part of any research into your ancestry. They are a key component of people’s research into their family trees. You might find an ancestor you never knew about, trace and learn more about distant relatives, or look for unknown kin.
When are Divorce Records Sealed?
I mentioned briefly that records aren’t always public. Sometimes, a party will ask the court to seal the record in order to prevent divorce documents from being publicly accessible. If the court agrees to put divorce records under seal, sensitive or private data within them is no longer public record. The court might order to seal part of the record or the entire one.
Privacy Protection Overview
If you want your record sealed, you must request this from the court. Courts don’t seal divorce records of their own volition. The judge will decide whether to admit and approve your request. This decision is based on several factors.
On the one hand, the court will look at the damage that could be inflicted on the party if the record remains open. On the other, they will consider the presumption that such documents should be publicly available in line with transparency principles.
Reasons to Ask the Court to Seal Your Divorce Record
Among the reasons people ask courts to seal their filings are a need to conceal classified business information or protect domestic violence victims. A parent might want to protect their child from being identified. There might also be a need to keep bank account details, social security numbers, and other sensitive information private.
If divorce filings contain false allegations or derogatory statements, one might seek to prevent exposure of these and consequently request sealing. Such accusations or claims could be construed as libel and result in loss of reputation. Since there’s obviously a difference between damaging and simply embarrassing information, the court might not agree in the latter case.
“Customization” of Requests to the Court
Attorneys maintain that one must tailor their request to seal a record narrowly so as little information as possible is sealed off. This is apart from but in addition to the consideration of the risk of injury.
Typically, a court that agrees to seal a divorce record will seal only and just enough information as needed to protect the party’s privacy. In some of these cases, parts of the record will be redacted. The justice system takes every measure to secure the benefits of public records, of which court system transparency is probably the biggest one.