Notwithstanding the age of computerized records, finding divorce records can be a difficult and time consuming task. Not only are divorce records spread among the 50 states, and each county for that state, but many county courts do not have their divorce records online or electronically available to the public. In these cases, the person searching for a divorce record has no choice but to manually examine the relevant files in the local county court where the information is located.
Determine the state and county where the person for whom you want divorce records resides or resided. Most states have jurisdictional requirements as to how long a person must be a resident in the state before a divorce can be granted. Also, many county courts have local rules that establish a specific number of days that a party in a divorce must be a resident in that county before a divorce action may be filed.
Obtain the contact information for the local court that handles divorces. That information is widely available on the Internet. For instance, the National Center for State Courts has a state-by-state directory of local court contact information available on its website. You can also obtain this information by contacting any local court clerk. They often have a directory of the county court clerks throughout the state.
Contact the court clerk for the county where the divorce may have occurred and ask if that state has centralized records for divorce decrees. Many states, such as Florida, Wisconsin and Washington State, maintain vital records, including divorce decrees, at the state level. If the particular state in which the divorce information is sought does not have centralized vital records, the local clerk of the court will be able to help you find local county divorce records.
Do an Internet search for the county where the divorce potentially occurred, using key words like “court clerk,” “county clerk” or "vital records." If a website for that county is found, public access to divorce records may be possible. If you have any questions about the website, the county clerk's office may be contacted for guidance. Because of the sensitivity of family court matters, some online divorce information may be limited.
Go to the clerk's office for the county in which the divorce is suspected to have been granted. Depending on the county, divorce records may only be accessible electronically from the clerk's office itself. In that case, computer terminals in the clerk's office will give the public access to those records. The clerk's staff should be able to advise you in using these computer terminals.
Access the divorce records manually if no computer system exists in the clerk's office where you are searching. Although this is more the exception than the rule in today's information age, the clerk's office staff will assist you in manually accessing court records to look for the relevant divorce file. In those cases where a clerk's office does not have electronic access to court records, they usually have an alternatively good system is in place for manually retrieving divorce files.
Tips & Warnings
Be patient - this task can be frustrating since there are so many potential jurisdictions involved.
Make sure that you have the person's full name, date of marriage, date of birth (if possible) and last known address. Due to the similarity of some names, this information must be very accurate.
References & Resources
- Florida Department of Health: Marriage and Divorce Certificates
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services: Request for a Divorce or Annulment Certificate
- Washington State Library: How to Find Washington State Marriage & Divorce Records
- "Guide to Factual Investigations"; Linda L. Edwards, et al.; 2001
- National Center for State Courts: State Court Websites
- Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images