How to Get Copies of Divorce Records
Tips to find court and legal records
How do I get a copy of my divorce decree?
Anyone who is divorced will rarely forget the day they went to court.
However, remembering the details of the decree or even locating the paperwork years later can be a challenge. You probably filed everything in "that box" somewhere, the same way you have tried to move on from that sad memory.
If you can't find your divorce records, don't despair. There are ways to recover those records without tearing apart your garage or rummaging through the basement.
You do not have to use an attorney to get the records; you can do this on your own.
Contrary to what you think, it's easier to get your records than you might imagine, and it will not cost you a fortune.
Chances are, you may have to pay a small fee to get a copy of your records.
But, if you were divorced in any county in the United States, you should be able to get a certified copy, even years after the fact.
There are a myriad of reasons you may need to get a copy of a former divorce decree.
Here are some steps to help you get the records you need.
How to Request Old Court Records
To get a copy of your own divorce, or, for that matter, even another person's decree, you will need the following information:
- The state and county in which the decree was granted.
- The year or approximate year of the decree.
- The name of at least one party in the divorce.
- The address of the courthouse clerk where the decree was granted.
Are you missing some of these details? You can still locate the records if you do some sleuthing. Try doing an Internet search for the name of at least one person in the marriage, or both names. If the last name is common, this will be more challenging than if it's an unusual spelling.
Try searching for both names, and search also for the year it may have been granted. If you aren't sure of the year, enter a series of years, one by one, to see if that narrows the search results.
Finally, if you know the state, but not the exact county, search for the county seat of the city where you lived at the time. If you don't know the city, for some reason, but you do know the region of the state (hey, time does things to our memories, right?), you can locate nearby counties and contact all of them.
The reason for searching online is that many counties (especially in large urban areas) have loaded the basic information (the names of the two parties, number of the case and the date) onto the web, and that will give you the information you need to file a request.
Most counties now have electronic databases where old files are loaded - this is a huge help, because it save time in having a manual search. Try calling the county or counties where the divorce may have taken place, and ask if they have the records.
After you locate the courthouse where the records are kept, ask the clerk what you need to do in order to get one or more copies of the decree.
Usually, you will need to send a written request and a small fee for copying the paperwork. If you want an official copy (one stamped by the court clerk, to show it's official), you will probably have a fee for that as well.
While you're at it, consider getting more than one copy - this could be helpful for the future, if you have children or others who need the records. You can also keep a copy in a safe deposit box if needed.
Courts and Divorces can be Complicated and Confusing
Why You Need Copies of Divorce Records
There are numerous reasons people need to refer back to divorce records years after the decree is granted. Here are just a few:
Child Support: If there were children in the marriage, child support can hinge on the age of the children and when they turn 18. If someone is behind on child support, the other spouse will need the decree in order to request that it be brought up-to-date. It's important to have the specifics of the decree in order to determine what the court ordered. There's a difference, for example, in support paid 'twice a month,' rather than 'every two weeks.' In one case, there are 24 payments a year; in the other case, there are 26 payments.
Child Custody & Visitation: In any divorce where children are involved, the decree will lay out who the children live with and the time each parent is entitled to spend with them. This information needs to be examined when someone moves out of state, or when the visitation doesn't seem to be following the guidelines of the decree.
Sale or Disposition of Property: We live in harsh economic times, and some couples divorce but still retain joint ownership of property, in the hopes that the economy will improve. Your decree will define who is responsible for payments, taxes and upkeep. It will also define the percentage of ownership and the ratio of distribution of equity and appreciation in the event the property is sold.
Retirement Benefits: You may have been young when you divorced, but the decree might have specified a portion of the pension or retirement funds of your former spouse will go to you. You'll need the court records in order to establish what was decreed.
Death of a Former Spouse: The decree will document the length and dates of the marriage, which is needed if the surviving former spouse wishes to receive Social Security based on the income of the deceased former spouse. Even if you are divorced, you can get Social Security benefits based on the income history of someone to whom you were married for at least 10 years. The Social Security office can tell you what is applicable in your own situation. The decree is also useful if one partner is entitled to insurance benefits or survivor benefits from a pension fund.
Requests to Adjust Monetary Awards: It is not unusual for divorced couples to return to court to adjust child support, alimony or spousal support. A judge who hears this request will refer to the original decree to determine intent, original award determination and other facts.