By Divorce.com staff
Updated Sep 20, 2022
Both parties should save all relevant documentation when a judge formalizes a divorce. There may come a time when one has to prove they are no longer married, at which point a divorce certificate or divorce decree could come in handy. You’ll have to request new copies through the court if you lose your documentation.
If you asked your lawyer to keep copies for you, there is no need to submit a records request; you could simply ask them to send the documents over again. When you get divorced, it’s essential to keep copies of divorce records; you’ll likely need to reference them at some point, especially if you need a refresher on your court-ordered child custody arrangement.
What Are Divorce Records?
Divorce records are pieces of documentation that act as proof a judge has formalized a divorce. If you want to know where your records are being kept, there are a few websites or places you can go to find this information.
How To Find Divorce Records: Three Options
When locating your divorce records, you’ll need to have some patience. You’ll need to wait for new certified copies to be mailed to you once you find what you're looking for. Here are some places you can look.
- Court websites
- The Office of Vital Statistics
- Private companies
One way you can locate your marriage records is to check the website of your local county court. You can typically find them in your state or national archives since divorce records are considered public. However, if your divorce was recent, you may not see them appear just yet.
How To Find Divorce Records Via Circuit Court Website
If you want to use this method to request your information, you’ll need access to certain details specific to your divorce case (ex: your case number). Here are the steps.
- Find the website of the court that finalized your divorce.
- Fill out their request form and provide all relevant info (case number, driver’s license, state ID, or other information may be requested)
- Wait for your request to be processed.
You must provide all of the required information when submitting your request. The county clerk may have trouble locating your case file if you don't.
Things to keep in mind:
- You may not be able to get a copy of your divorce decree or divorce certificate online; you might have to go in person for that.
- If your divorce was recent, you might have to wait; the records likely won’t be in the system yet.
- Make sure you visit the right website (it can’t be any court website)
How To Find Divorce Records from Circuit Courts in Person
If you do end up having to visit the county clerk in person, they’ll be able to guide you through the process and help you obtain certified copies of your marriage records.
- Visit the clerk’s office in the county where your divorce was formalized.
- Bring the necessary documentation (case number, driver’s license, state ID, or other info may be requested)
- Wait for your copies to be mailed to you; this could take some time depending on how backed up your court system is
Things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you’re in the right county; if you visit the wrong court, they might be unable to help you.
- If you don’t know which county you were divorced in, visit your nearest county clerk for more information. They might have access to a centralized database.
The Office of Vital Statistics
After your divorce is final, you’ll need to obtain your divorce certificate, as the court does not issue these. You’ll be able to get yours from your state’s health department, the same place you might request a birth certificate from. You can also reach out to the Office of Vital Statistics.
Step-by-Step: How To Find Divorce Records from the Office of Vital Statistics
While you could obtain your divorce certificate from here post-divorce, you cannot request certified copies of any court records related to your marriage or divorce. The Office of Vital Statistics does not retain marriage or divorce records. You can only request those from the clerk’s office in the county where your divorce was finalized.
Several private companies can source divorce records for you; they can even track down and mail you a certified copy of your birth certificate. These companies perform all of the tedious tasks involved in sourcing your records and mail you certified copies of your most important documents right to your door.
How Private Companies Can Help You Find Divorce Records
Here is the information you’ll need (which can vary by company) to provide the company with.
- The city and state where your divorce was finalized
- The exact date your divorce was finalized (when the judge issues their ruling)
- The reason you need the document (ex: personal recordkeeping)
- Your full legal name and date of birth (and often more personal information)
- The information of your spouse (full legal name)
- Divorce case number
You may need to provide other information as well. Then you’ll need to pay a fee for the certified copy and a processing fee for the company to process your records request.
Advantages of Using a Private Company
Many benefits come with the service if you decide to work with a private company. Tracking down court records isn’t always so straightforward. With a private company, you’ll be able to delegate tedious tasks and avoid stressing out when things aren’t going how you need them to.
A private company will take total responsibility for only a small fee, a good deal for those who don’t have much time or don’t want to get stuck trying to navigate the court system. You could save so much time without having to visit the court in person or wait for them to reply to your mail-in request.
Potential Drawbacks of Using a Private Company
A potential downside to using a private company is that it’s not always safe to enter your information online. Make sure you’re taking the necessary steps to protect yourself. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself when shopping for online services.
- Only visit official websites (ex: any site ending in .gov or usa.gov if you’re in the United States)
- Be wary of third-party sites (sites that are not owned by the company you’re seeking a service from)
- Triple-check the web address before entering any sensitive information (ex: social security numbers)
Unfortunately, for all legitimate private companies, there are just as many that are not. Make sure you’re being safe online and doing plenty of research before moving forward with any particular service.
Which Option Is Best?
We’ve discussed three ways you could obtain your divorce records: court websites, The Office of Vital Statistics, and private companies. Remember, while you can get a divorce certificate post-divorce from the vital records office, they don’t retain divorce or marriage records. So if you need new certified copies, you’ll need to visit your local court’s website, go in person to the court, or consult a private company for help.
If you’re looking for a more hands-off approach, it could be a good idea to go through a private company. They’ll handle everything for you, and you won’t have to leave your home. This is an excellent option for people with busy lives or who have trouble navigating complex issues.
If you prefer to handle things like this on your own, you can go to the appropriate county court website and fill out a request form. These often vary by state. You can also go in person if you’re having trouble, and the court clerk will assist you with your request.
This is an excellent option for people who are wary of giving out their information to companies and want to go directly to a source they know is trustworthy.
Divorce Records vs. Divorce Certificates and Decrees
The primary factor that a divorce certificate and a divorce decree have in common is that they both fall under the category of a divorce record. However, they both serve different functions and are obtained from other sources.
What Is a Divorce Certificate?
A divorce certificate is simply a document that proves a marriage has ended. It is usually no more than one page long.
The certificate will include the identifying information of each ex-spouse, the location where the divorce was finalized (the court address), and the date it was completed (when the judge issued a final ruling).
It’s also good to know that while a court of law issues divorce judgments, divorce certificates are not. As mentioned above, you can obtain a certified copy of your divorce certificate from your state’s health department or The Bureau of Vital Statistics.
What Is a Divorce Decree?
After the divorce judgment is issued, the couple will receive a divorce decree. It will not only prove that the marriage has ended but will also spell out the terms. These terms should specify which assets (or what portion of the assets) each party is receiving.
The judgment will also spell out each party’s obligations moving forward (ex: child support). You and your ex-spouse should keep copies of divorce records, especially when there are many terms that you might need to reference over time. In a divorce decree, you’ll also find information relevant to the divorce case.
This means the case number, the official end date of the marriage, and other relevant details. A divorce decree is legally binding (enforceable under the law). So if one spouse is not abiding by the terms initially agreed upon, the other can hold them accountable in court.
Whether you’ve lost your divorce records and need replacements or are just curious about how the court records system works, we’re happy to help educate you on the process. If you’re undergoing a divorce or considering it, we can help with that too.
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