Are There Public Records When People File for Divorce?
By Teo Spengler
Updated March 30, 2020
A divorce may be highly personal, but it isn't secret. Generally, all documents filed in a court action are public records, accessible in the court clerk's office and sometimes over the Internet; divorce records are no exception. Once the dissolution petition is filed with the court, divorce pleadings are generally open to public viewing.
Divorce Records Public
A couple may keep their fights and arguments secret, but they cannot do the same with a divorce filing. Divorces commence when one spouse files a complaint or petition to dissolve the marriage. The court clerk opens the case and, immediately, the petition and every other court document filed in the matter becomes public record.
State laws exempt a few types of filings in divorce court from the general rule of being public record. Some states protect documents detailing domestic abuse from public viewing. Similarly, psychological examinations of spouses and like documents gathered in custody disputes are often kept confidential. All of a judge's notes and first drafts are protected as private, as well as internal memos from her staff.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.