How to Search Free Divorce Records Without Membership Fees

By Teo Spengler

Updated March 15, 2018

If you're trying to access divorce files, you'll be happy to learn that they're usually public records. Most court files are considered public records and open to review by anyone who's interested. That doesn't stop private firms from charging a fee, however, or requiring paid membership to allow you to access their databases. But you've also got free options.

Searching Divorce Records at the Courthouse

Divorces are court cases, brought before a judge who is charged with overseeing a negotiated settlement or with resolving disputed issues ranging from custody to support to property division. Most divorces begin with a complaint or petition and end with a judgment and/or decree of dissolution.

Most court files are public, including divorce files. But this doesn't mean that every document in every file will be open to public viewing. Any party to a divorce can ask the court to make a particular document or group of documents private, sealing them from public viewing. They must show that privacy concerns outweigh the public right to know. Often courts seal files and documents that involve child custody issues or sexual abuse.

Visit the court clerk's office at the courthouse where a divorce case was heard. You'll need some data about the divorce, at least the names of the parties and the year of the divorce, if not the case number. Give whatever information you have to the clerk and ask to see the file. Many courts provide an area where you can sit and look through court files. You may be able to ask the clerk to make copies of critical documents for a per-page fee.

Search Divorce Records Free Online

Some state courts maintain a case file database that you can search online. But exactly what you'll find online differs among jurisdictions. For example, in the court website for San Diego, California, you'll find a database of family law cases, including divorces. The database will tell you the case number of the file you're interested in and which courthouse you need to visit to view it. The court website for Los Angeles County is more sophisticated and allows you to access your own case files online. In addition to identifying the court a case is pending in, it provides a summary of your civil, small claims, family law and probate cases if you type in your case number.

If you're wondering what records are online in your court system, Massachusetts Legal Services has compiled a list of searchable court databases on a state-by-state basis. You can find it online. It will help you figure out where and how to search for divorce records.