Where to Get a Free Copy of a Divorce Decree?

By Tom Streissguth

The final decree or decree of divorce represents the official, sanctioned outcome of a divorce action. Signed by the presiding judge, the decree lists the parties involved, as well as the decisions taken in the case over child custody, the division of assets, and other matters. If you are a party to the divorce, it is vital that you keep a copy of the decree in a safe place; various public agencies and private firms will require it to verify your marital status. Although the court should provide you with a certified copy of the decree, you can easily obtain another copy if you need one. If you were not a party to the divorce, most courts require additional paperwork before releasing a copy of the decree.

Court Clerk's Office

The civil court where you filed your divorce keeps a copy of the divorce decree in its records, both electronic and hardcopy. By state law, the court is required to keep the decree on file for a minimum period of time, typically seven or 10 years. Your first step is to visit the clerk’s office of this court, once you have verified the location of the decree with an online search. You will need identification as well as the case number; if you don't have the case number, the clerk may be able to search by party, date, attorney(s), or judge. If you were not a party to the divorce, the court may require a notarized letter or signed affidavit from one of the parties, granting you permission to view or copy the document.

Department of Records

If the court clerk no longer has the divorce records in custody, apply to the department of vital records, office of vital statistics, or registrar, in the county where your divorce case took place. If the county records department does not keep divorce decrees, contact your state department of records or registrar. You can find the contact information online. If you were not a party to the divorce, you will find that the records are not available unless you can provide signed and notarized permission from one of the parties in the form of a letter, notice or affidavit.

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If you are still unable to track down a copy of the decree, and you had an attorney represent you in the case, contact this attorney for a copy of the divorce decree and any other records pertaining to the case. Attorneys keep closed files on hand for several years, as mandated by state law and regulations. If your own attorney does not have the file, you may apply to your ex-spouse's attorney; with the written permission of your ex-spouse you will be able to get a copy of the decree from this file.

Online Sources

As a last resort, you may be able to track down a copy of a divorce decree online. Various Internet sites offer search engines and databases that may help you locate the decree if by chance it is not on file in the county or state where it should be. These sites customarily charge a fee for a viewable and printable copy of the document. Also, many jurisdictions limit access to public records and may prohibit you from viewing the decree, unless you are a party to the case, or an attorney representing one of the parties.

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How Do I Get a Copy of a Divorce Decree That Is Twenty Years Old?


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How to Apply for a Divorce Decree Document

A divorce decree is a document prepared by the court that specifies the terms and conditions of the divorce. Typically, it is kept on file at the Office of the County Clerk in the county where the divorce proceedings occurred. It is important to have a copy of your divorce decree as it is the formal legal document that declares your divorce finalized and, where appropriate, contains the court’s determinations as to division of marital property, child support and visitation, and spousal support. You need a copy of your divorce decree to remarry, obtain a legal name change, or remove a former spouse’s name from any joint loans or bank accounts.

How to Find Divorce Records for the State of New Jersey

In New Jersey, the process for finding and requesting divorce records depends on the date of the divorce. The New Jersey State Archives maintain divorce records from 1900 and prior, while the Superior Court Public Information Center keeps divorce records from 1901 to 1992. To obtain divorce records from 1992 to the present, you must contact the local courthouse that handled the divorce. For divorce records from any year, you will likely have an easier search if you have case information, such as the spouses' names, divorce date, docket number and location of the local court that handled the divorce.

How to Get a Free Copy of Divorce Records

Whenever parties are involved in a divorce action, the clerk of court will create a permanent record of every document filed by the attorneys or parties that represented themselves. Thanks to the new wave in court technology, most record searches can be conducted online. However, in some instances a request will have to be conducted in person or via mail.

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