How to Obtain a Docket Number of a Divorce

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

With so many state, city, county and other local courthouses having jurisdiction to hear divorce cases around the country, the process of obtaining a docket number for a divorce case depends entirely on the rules of each court. However, despite the lack of uniformity of court rules across jurisdictions, obtaining a docket number isn’t difficult at all.

What Are Docket Numbers

Whenever someone decides to initiate divorce proceedings, the courthouse where the plaintiff files the divorce petition or similar document creates a new file and assigns it a unique docket number. Some jurisdictions refer to the docket number by a different name, such as case or index number, but its purpose is always the same. Just like your Social Security number identifies who you are, a docket number will identify a specific divorce case. To insure documents are filed correctly, the docket number is usually listed on every single document that either spouse files with the court. Whether you need the docket number for your own divorce or the divorce of someone else, there are a number of ways you can obtain it.

Online Court Database

Many state courthouses allow you to obtain a docket number for a divorce case on their respective websites. The website of the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara County provides a good example of a user-friendly database to search for a docket number. By indicating the type of court case, which in many jurisdictions is the family court, and the names of either or both parties, the system will provide you with the docket numbers you need. As a result, it’s beneficial to check the website of the court hearing the divorce matter first since it’s likely the most convenient and quickest method for obtaining a docket number.

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Contact Court Clerk

If your courthouse doesn’t maintain an online database of divorce case docket numbers, the website is likely to provide instructions on how to obtain it. In New Jersey, for example, you must contact a customer service number and ask a representative to conduct a docket number search. However, you must know the specific court, names of the parties and approximate year the divorce occurred. In the event the court will not provide a divorce docket number over the phone, you may have no other choice but to make your request in writing or in person.

Using Docket Numbers

If you are a party to the divorce, you need the docket number for your case to file documents with the court or review your own file. In some jurisdictions, having the docket number doesn’t entitle you to view an actual divorce file unless you are a party to the divorce or an attorney representing either spouse. For example, Delaware County, Pennsylvania is one jurisdiction that limits access to divorce files to unrelated parties and only allows the general public to view divorce decrees – but nothing else inside the file. New York courts are even more restrictive, denying the general public access to any divorce file unless they are a party to the divorce, an attorney that represents either party or possess a notarized letter from someone authorized to access the file.

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References

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