How to Find Out If I'm Legally Divorced

by Beverly Bird

    The only definitive way to know if you are divorced is to locate a decree. However, not being able to find a decree doesn’t necessarily mean you’re still married. It may simply mean that your spouse didn’t divorce you in the state and county where you think she did. Determining your marital status if you don’t know where your spouse is, and if you can’t ask her, is a little like hunting for the needle in the proverbial haystack.

    Step 1

    Contact the legal notice department of the newspaper that serves the area where you and your spouse last lived together. If your spouse couldn't find you, she may have gotten permission from the court to use constructive service instead. This usually means posting notice of her intention to divorce you in the newspaper. This is the only way your spouse could have divorced you without having you personally served with papers. Requesting a search through the paper's published notices for your name, may turn up the notice.

    Step 2

    Call the courthouse in the county and state where you last lived together. If you were lucky enough to find a divorce notice with the newspaper, this will lead you to the court in the correct county; the legal notice will include the court’s name. Ask the clerk to search computer records for your name. If your spouse did not follow through with the divorce after publishing notice, however, you might hit a dead end and find no record of a decree.

    Step 3

    Use the Internet to find out if the state where you last lived together offers a searchable docket database online. Some states, such as New York, provide this service. If your state does, you may be able do a search for just your name, but you may have to input a county as well. If you came up empty when you contacted the courthouse, cross that county off your list and try others.

    Step 4

    Contact your state’s department of vital records, if you strike out with the newspaper and the county court. Even if your state has no searchable docketing database online, its department of public records should have a copy of your divorce certificate, if you're divorced. This might not produce results, however, because most states will require not only your name and your spouse’s name to confirm a decree, but information that’s not available to you as well, such as your docket number and the date of your divorce.

    Step 5

    Try to find your spouse if you can’t find a decree. If you have information such as her Social Security number, date of birth and last known address, a private investigator may be able to find her for you. If you ever filed a tax return together, her Social Security number will be on it. Private investigators can search databases not available to the general public, so you might be able to locate her this way. If you do, you can ask her if she divorced you and get a copy of the decree.

    Tips & Warnings

    • If you have no luck in the county and state where you and your spouse last lived together, but she has family or ties to another area of the country, you can try the same process in that state as well.
    • If all else fails, and you can’t find a decree, file for divorce yourself. With your court’s permission, you can serve your spouse by publication if you’ve been unable to find her. You can then receive a divorce by default if she doesn't participate in the process.

    About the Author

    Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.

    Photo Credits

    • David Sacks/Lifesize/Getty Images