How to Get a Free Copy of Divorce Records
By Teo Spengler
Updated March 18, 2019
You'll get a copy of your divorce decree for no extra charge when you get a divorce, but, otherwise, copies are not free. Most court filings are public, including divorce matters, so you can access them for free, but making copies will usually cost you something.
Free Copy of Divorce Decree
If you get a divorce, the court mails you a free copy of the divorce decree. If you lose that, your attorney will probably give you another copy. Although you've paid the court filing fee as well as lawyer fees, you won't pay an additional amount for these extra copies, so they might technically qualify as free.
Aside from that, there is no free lunch. You'll have to pay for copies of divorce decrees. It's not hard to go into the court and inspect your own file in the court clerk's office. But while access costs nothing, you'll pay per page for a copy.
Free Divorce Decree Records
The same rules apply when you are searching divorce records and filings from someone else's divorce case. You may assume most divorce records are private, but that simply is not the case. Many courts permit sealing of divorce case records upon an appropriate showing of confidential information, but the default position is usually public.
There are exceptions. Alaska divorce records can only be accessed by the public 50 years after a divorce occurs. California provides only limited information online to the public about divorces, reserving actual copies to the parties and associated interests. In contrast, Connecticut divorce files are open to the public immediately. That means that anyone with the name and number of a divorce case can walk into the court clerk's office and ask to see it.
In order to access divorce files in jurisdictions where they are considered public records, go into the court that granted the divorce. Bring the case number and party names. Ask the clerk to locate the file.
When the court brings out the file, you may be assigned to an area where you can review it. Or you may review it standing up at the clerk's window. It is a crime to alter or remove court records, so if you want a copy of something, you'll have to make one. In some courts, there is a self-service copy machine to use. In others, you mark the pages that interest you and ask the court to make copies.
Free Copy of Divorce Papers Online
If you find a searchable online database that has the divorce case you are interested in, your "cost" for copying the papers is even less. You can open the file online, then print copies of the critical pages. This will cost you only a small fraction of the amount you spent for the printer ink cartridge and the copy paper.
Legitimate lists of online searchable divorce databanks are published by Public Records and Massachusetts Legal Services. These are online lists, and cited in this article's Resources.
Be careful with online private companies offering "free divorce records." It is rare that these services actually turn out to be free.
Read More: How to Get a Copy of Divorce Papers
- In some states, you need to be a party to the marriage and divorce (or the attorney). In others, you merely have to prove some relationship to one of the parties involved. Also, you will have provide some identification of your own, but what constitutes proper identification varies from state to state. Check with the county court for its specific requirements.
- Some online public records companies that aren't affiliated with or approved by the state can also get you the information you want. You may be able to get the records instantly and at half the cost of the state-affiliated online option.
- Free divorce records are not certified and are not necessarily permissible as legal documents. If you plan on using a divorce record for some legal purpose, you'll need a certified copy directly from the county or state.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.