How to Find Out if a Divorce Has Been Filed
By Beverly Bird
Updated December 14, 2018
You might not be the first to know that your spouse filed for divorce, but you’ll probably find out relatively quickly. He has a legal obligation to serve you with the paperwork so you can respond to the proceedings and defend your interests. But if you’re trying to find out whether someone else has filed for divorce – or if his spouse has – this might not be possible. In many states, you have no right to this information if you’re not a party to the divorce action and named in the lawsuit.
Check the Newspaper
If your spouse doesn’t know where you’re currently living or working – maybe because you separated years ago then moved out of state – he can’t have you personally served with divorce papers through traditional means. However, he can ask the judge for permission to serve you by publication if he can prove that he looked for you in every nook and cranny, contacted friends and loved ones, and searched public databases and social media. If so, the judge will allow him to serve you by placing a notice in the largest newspaper, either locally or serving the locality where he last knew you to reside. Contact newspapers in your previous places of residence – and his – and ask them to check their records for such a notice. Depending on the newspaper, you might even be able to do this online.
Call the Court Clerk
If you haven’t moved and your spouse knows where you are, he should serve you with the papers within about a month of filing them with the court. Call or visit the courthouse in the county where you think he might have filed the divorce petition. If the two of you live in the same county, this will probably be the court that has the papers. If you live in different counties, try both of them. Some states don’t restrict the counties in which a spouse can file, so you'll probably have to contact all of them if your state doesn’t have restrictions. Speak to a clerk of the family court or whichever division handles divorces – this can sometimes vary by state. Give your identifying information and request a copy of the court records.
Some states allow you to check family court records online, but the rules for this depend on the jurisdiction. You must usually be a party to the case, and in some states, even this isn’t enough – you must be an attorney. But the records are open to the public in some jurisdictions. Type the name of the state where you’re looking into a search engine, then add the phrase “court records” to find out if your state offers this convenience.
Vacating a Default Judgment
If your spouse somehow manages to get a default judgment for divorce because you never knew about the proceedings, all is not lost. Courts order default judgments or decrees when one spouse doesn’t participate in the divorce, often giving the filing spouse everything he asked for in his complaint or petition. But most states give you a period of time to petition the court to set the judgment aside or vacate it, particularly if you never received notice of the proceedings. Your spouse typically must file some sort of proof of service with the court as part of the proceedings, telling the court how he served you. If he didn’t tell the truth or service was by publication, the court will almost certainly grant your petition and reopen the proceedings. In that case, the whole divorce process will start over.
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.