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A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Requesting Divorce Records

It is not always straightforward to locate and request divorce records because they are held locally throughout the USA, limited resources are available to deal with enquiries, and confidentiality requirements differ from state to state. This step-by-step guide should help you in your quest to find the information you require.

Step One: Find out the state and preferably also the county in which the divorce was filed and granted.

There is no national database of divorce records in the USA. Each county courthouse holds records of the divorces that have been granted under its jurisdiction. Some states also maintain state-wide records of all divorces.

It is therefore essential to find out at least the state and preferably also the county in which a particular divorce case was filed before you begin to search for public records relating to it.

Step Two: Find out as much further information as possible on the divorce. Use online resources if they exist.

It is extremely useful to have at least some, if not all, of the following information to hand when requesting divorce records:

  • Full names of both marriage partners (in some cases, the husband’s name is essential as records are sometimes filed only under the husband’s name)
  • The wife’s maiden name
  • Date of the divorce decree (or at least an approximate year or range of years)
  • Name of the county (or town or city) where the divorce was granted

For a few states, it is possible to do a preliminary online search for this information. Colorado is an example of this. The Colorado Divorce/Dissolution Database contains records on all divorces and marriage dissolutions from 1851 to 1939 and from 1968 to the present day. Divorces granted during the1940 to 1967 period are excluded.

In order to search the database, go to http://sctc.state.co.us/marriages/divorces.aspx and fill in the online form. The search results will include the following information on each record:

  • Name of petitioner

  • Name of respondent

  • Docket Number

  • County

  • Decree date

  • Decree type

Step 3: Find out how and where to apply for the divorce record.

Once you have gathered all of the information that you can find, you will need to apply directly either to the local county courthouse or to the state’s central records repository for a certified copy of the divorce certificate or a letter of verification stating that the divorce actually took place.

For specific state-by-state information on how to apply for divorce records in each state of the USA and some overseas territories, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/howto/ Click on the relevant state and scroll down the page until you see the heading ‘Event: Divorce.’

For another useful website giving a list of 37 states with direct links to web pages that detail how and where to apply for divorce records, go to:

http://www.publicrecordfinder.com/divorcerecordsbystate

Step 4: Follow the application instructions carefully, pay the required fee and apply for the divorce record.

Applications are more straightforward in some states than in others because of differing confidentiality requirements. In Alabama, for example, certified copies of divorce certificates for all divorces granted since 1950 are freely available at the state level to anyone who enquires and pays the fee.

In some states, the application process is less straightforward as you have to state your reason for requesting the divorce records and submit a copy of your government-issued photographic ID in order to prove your identity. There may also be further specific requirements. In Alaska, for example, you have to sign the copy of your photographic ID. In order to avoid delays, it is wise to read the instructions carefully before submitting your application.

All states require you to pay a small fee for searching for and issuing a copy of the divorce record. This fee is not usually more than $20 and it cannot normally be refunded, even if the search for the divorce record is not successful.

Some states and counties only accept applications by mail, while others allow you to apply online, in person or by other means.

Step 5: Wait for the requested information. The amount of time taken to deal with requests varies greatly but expedited services are sometimes possible.

Once you have requested a copy of the divorce record or certificate, the time taken to fulfill your request varies but the average waiting time is a few weeks.

Some states offer expedited services. Florida is one state that offers this service for an extra fee. Further details can be found at: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/planning_eval/

The waiting time is sometimes much longer than a few weeks, because some counties and states have limited resources to deal with enquiries and/or do not hold computerized records. In California, for example, a request for a certificate of divorce record at the state level can take as long as 2 to 3 years to fulfill.

In states where confidentiality is an issue, your request may be refused if you are not deemed to have a legitimate reason for requesting a copy of the divorce certificate. In this case, however, you may be granted a letter of verification which states that the record exists but does not reveal information contained in the certificate that is unknown to the requestor. This is the case in Hawaii, for example.

Some states will not issue a copy of the divorce certificate but will carry out a state-wide search to confirm that a divorce actually took place. You will then need to apply to the relevant Superior Court in the county where the divorce was granted for a copy of the divorce decree. An example of a state offering this type of service is Georgia. For further information on the exact process, go to http://health.state.ga.us/programs/vitalrecords/divorce.asp

Although the process of finding and requesting divorce records is not always straightforward, these five steps should help you to find the information you require.

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