Two people place their wedding bands on a stack of divorce papers on a table between them.

Are Divorce Records Public?

How to find or hide your divorce documents

Last Updated: April 19, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Generally, divorce documents are part of the public record unless there are specific reasons to seal them.
  • Divorce documents include certificates (providing basic divorce information), decrees (outlining divorce terms), and records (comprehensive files from the proceedings).
  • Access to divorce documents varies by state, and individuals can request redaction or sealing, depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction.

Wondering what happens to your divorce paperwork once you file it?
Unless there’s a specific reason why they shouldn’t be, most court documents are part of the public record. So, yes, your divorce documents and evidence from your court case (e.g. your Separation Agreement) generally do become publicly available.
Read on to discover how to find, retrieve, and hide divorce documents from the public record.

Which divorce documents are part of the public record?

There are many documents that become a part of the public record when you get a divorce. Although applying to view these documents is usually pretty straightforward, it does take a bit of time and money.
If you’re going to go through the trouble of looking these documents up, it’s important to know which one suits your purposes.

1. Divorce Certificate

A divorce certificate is a legal document that states:
  • The names of the people involved in the divorce agreement
  • Where they got divorced
  • The date and time the divorce became final
Typically, only the people involved in the divorce can request this document, although some exceptions may apply.
Why would someone need a divorce certificate?
This legal document is evidence of a couple’s divorce. It’s useful whenever someone needs quick confirmation of their name or relationship status. For example, a divorcee may need this document to change their name or get married to someone else.

2. Divorce Decree

A divorce decree, also known as a judgment, is an official document that a court issues to establish the terms of a couple’s legal divorce. Depending on your case, the court may decide these terms, or you and your ex-spouse may settle them yourself.
For example, the decree can address:
  • Alimony (spousal support) payments
  • Parental decision-making rights
  • Child support payments
  • Property ownership
  • Debt distribution
  • Visitation rights
Typically, only the people involved in the divorce can request this document, although some exceptions may apply.
Why would someone need a divorce decree?
The details in this document are essential for maintaining a certain quality of life for each partner and any children from their relationship. As such, it’s a good idea to obtain a copy of your divorce decree for reference. If your ex doesn’t uphold the terms of the divorce, you might need to return to court to hold them accountable.

3. Divorce Record

A divorce record not only contains all the information of a certificate and a decree, but it also includes all of the files and documents generated during the divorce proceedings.
Generally, divorce records are publicly available in the same way that most other court documents are.
Why would someone need a divorce record?
The information, evidence, and judgments in this file may be useful in future court proceedings. For instance, one of the divorcees may try to reverse a decision made by the court in this case.

How can I get a copy of my divorce document?

Often, the only things stopping people from reading certain court documents are time, cost, and accessibility. But it’s easier—and cheaper—than you might think.
If you need a certificate to prove you got divorced, you can order one through your local Vital Statistics Office. Many offices allow online applications, and fees typically range between $10 and $30.
For a divorce decree or record, you must submit an application to the courts in which the divorce was held. Each state handles divorces differently, but typically the court in charge will be either the state superior court or the county circuit court.
Most courts allow you to search for a case online. Otherwise, you can file an application through the mail or in person. To identify the proper court case, you’ll need to gather the following information:
  • The case number, citation number, or cross-reference number
  • The name of the court where the divorce proceedings took place
Some court systems also allow you to search for a case by using the name of the person, business, or attorney that was involved. However, you’ll still need to know which court to apply the search to.

To streamline the search process for court documents, the United States government created a national index that you can easily search online. For more information, visit the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) website.

Which divorce documents are not public record?

A court may decide to seal case documents if the information within them could cause harm in the public sphere.
For example, a judge might seal cases that have proprietary business information, or sensitive issues regarding children or domestic violence. In this case, you’d likely need a court order to view sealed court transcripts, evidence, and other paperwork.

How can I hide the fact that I’m divorced?

Generally, a court won’t seal any documents without a request. Plus, even if you request it, they could say no if they don’t think it’s necessary.
For example, usually, a court won’t seal information for minor reasons like personal embarrassment. However, if you have a valid reason why court documents could be detrimental to you or others, the courts may oblige.
Alternatively, you can ask the court to redact portions of your divorce papers as opposed to all of the case documents. A lessor request like this may have higher chances for success.
In some states, you may be able to ask the judge to waive court requirements for filing certain papers. In this case, your confidential information won’t be accessible to the public.