Are Divorce Documents Public Record?

By Teo Spengler

With very few exceptions, all documents in court files are classified as public records. Most filings in a divorce case, from the opening petition to the final judgment, can be inspected by anyone who visits the courthouse in which the divorce was prosecuted during regular business hours. Jurisdictions vary regarding exceptions to public access.

Court Records

In most states, documents filed with the court -- from wills to death penalty litigation -- are considered public documents that may be viewed by anyone who comes to the courthouse. This includes divorce documents. Certain jurisdictions provide for viewing of court files over the Internet.

When Privacy Prevails

Each state legislature carves out exceptions to this rule it deems necessary. Documents detailing domestic abuse are considered private in some states, as are documents gathered as part of a person's psychological evaluation. Another common exception involves judicial work product, including a judge's notes, internal staff memos and document drafts.

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Are There Public Records When People File for Divorce?


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Is a Will a Public Record?

A will is a written document in which a person, termed a testator, describes how she wishes her estate to pass on her death. A last will and testament begins as a private document -- during the testator's life, she controls access to it -- but it finishes as a public one. A will in probate is open to public inspection.

Can Anyone See Someone's Last Will & Testament?

While a testator remains alive, her will is a private document. She shows it to whom she wishes, and others have no right to view it. It is revocable at whim. At the testator's death, however, the will executor files the document with the probate court. Once a will is filed with the court, it is a public document unless the court orders otherwise.

Are Wills Public Record in California?

Neither the California Public Records Act nor the federal Freedom of Information Act applies to court documents. However, the California court system provides public access to all court documents not specifically made private by state statute. Thus, a last will and testament becomes a public document in California the minute it is filed in probate, absent a court order to the contrary.

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