Finding Divorce Records

Audrey M. Jones
divorce decree

Whether for personal use, genealogical research or inheritance purposes, there are many reasons why you may need a copy of a divorce record. These records are usually public, but searching for them typically isn't free, as most online search engines charge a fee to view or obtain an actual copy of the record. Courts may charge for searches or copies of documents.

Divorce Records vs. Divorce Certificates

Before beginning a search, it is important to note the legal difference between a divorce record and a divorce certificate, to ensure you get what you're expecting. When most people search for a divorce record, what they want is a copy of the divorce certificate, which states the named individuals are divorced as of the date written on the certificate. This is what you will receive from a public records search.

The divorce record is the actual case file and contains every pleading, motion, and piece of evidence submitted in the case. Online public records finders do not provide you with a copy of the divorce record. You must request a copy of the file from the courthouse where the divorce was finalized.

Online Divorce Records Search

There are a number of websites you can use to search for divorce records. These sites do all the legwork for you, so you do not have to contact state agencies directly. Searches are generally free, but you cannot view the results without paying a fee. The more information you have, the more accurate the search results.

Court Records Finder

You can search for divorce records on this site with the individual's first and last name, as well the state where they live (or lived). If you don't know the state, the site will conduct a nationwide search. The website then provides a list of names that match, or are similar to, the name you searched for. It also provides a list of cities the individual has lived in, and possible relatives, which can help narrow down the list, if the search provides numerous potential matches. You can purchase the full report for $2.95.

Government Registry

Government Registry searches billions of records, from marriage and death certificates to criminal arrest records. To search for a divorce record, you need only provide the individual's first and last name to conduct the search - approximate age, city and state are optional (the default search is nationwide), although the more information you have, the better the results. Then, the site will provide you with a list of possible matches. Once you identify the best match, you may purchase the full report for $19.95, or purchase a five-day trial for $2.95.

Search Quarry

Similar to Court Records Finder, Search Quarry allows you to search for a divorce record using the individual's first and last name and state of residence. Search Quarry then provides you a list of possible matches containing the individual's name, age, cities lived in and possible relatives. Unlike the other sites, Search Quarry will allow you to view the entire report free of charge during a free, five-day trial membership. If you don't cancel before the trial period ends, the fee is $19.95 per month.

VitalChek

VitalChek is an official, government-authorized provider of vital records that can provide you with certified copies of divorce certificates from 24 states. However, you cannot conduct a search based on partial information, like some of the other search sites. VitalChek is easy to use - input the individual's first and last name, the city and state where the divorce was finalized, the date of the divorce, and the reason for your request. Then, VitalCheck will process and submit your request to the appropriate government agency. Fees (not including shipping costs and a processing fee) range from $15.50 - $78.50.

Courthouse Search

judge with gavel

If you can visit the court that granted the divorce, you may be able to view the entire divorce record for free, although you must pay for photocopies or certified copies of the divorce certificate.

If you cannot visit the courthouse, you may be able to submit a records request online. Many courthouses allow users to search online for divorce records. Some charge a fee to search; for others, searches are free, and you pay only for copies of documents (plus any mailing costs).

Vital Records Request

You can request a copy of the divorce certificate through the state's vital records department. You must submit an application with the requested information (which may vary among states) and pay the required fee. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection maintains a list of contacts for the vital records department in every U.S. state and territory.

Required Information to Search for Records

Many public records sites can search for records with as little as the individual's first and last name. However, better information leads to more accurate results, and more accurate results save you from sifting through potentially thousands of possible matches and from wasting money purchasing records or reports that turn out to be the wrong individual. The following information can help refine your search:

  • First and last name of both spouses
  • City and state where the divorce was filed
  • The current or previous address of the individual you are searching for
  • The date the divorce was finalized

While divorce records are public, there are situations in which the file may be sealed. Records may be sealed in extenuating circumstances, such as in divorces of high-profile individuals (such as celebrities or high-wealth individuals who want to keep their financial information private), or if the case involved evidence of physical or sexual abuse of minor children. If the record is sealed, you will be unable to view the record without a court order.

Your Divorce Record Search

Although you may be unable to view a divorce record for free, you can search to see if a divorce has occurred for free. Depending on the reason for your search, just knowing an individual has divorced may be sufficient, thereby eliminating the need to pay a fee at all.

Finding Divorce Records