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Divorce records are documentation involved in the split process. These entail divorce decrees, court records, and certificates. Typically, a divorce record is a vital record and is deemed confidential, so it is not accessible to the public. Some states do not have access restrictions, so anyone interested in the record may get a copy of the documents. For divorce records, one must submit an application to the courts where the case was heard.
Each state handles divorce records a bit differently, though the court in charge will either be a county circuit or a state superior court. The eligible interested party must search through the state's database for online access to divorce records. They would be required to provide the citation, case numbers, and the court name or where the divorce happened. Some divorce record types are also more accessible than others.
Divorce decrees may contain sensitive details concerning family finances, personal matters, children, or personal issues. For one, a state may limit access to the divorce decrees to only the parties of the divorce and the attorneys or individuals who have a legal interest in the document. One has to request a copy of the decree directly from the court which issued it. There may also be a fee which is to get a certified copy.
Most divorce records come with sensitive personal information, so they are not always available to every interested party. States and courts' policies concerning those accessing the divorce court records vary. Generally, the party can issue a request from the courts that decided the case. Most courts will issue copies of divorce court records to only the legal representatives or parties. Those who do not have a direct interest in the case can only view some of the documentation as well.
Divorce certificates only entail the basics of the divorce settlement and are the most widely accessible documentation. Considering these do not have confidential information, the majority of states do not put a lot of restrictions on who can get divorce certificate copies. Usually, anyone willing to pay a fee may get a copy through one of the different court record services. Divorce certification is also available via request from the vital records office per the state. One will also need specific information on the divorce, like the party names, case numbers, or the location of the court.
To protect the divorce document identity from becoming a matter of public information, the spouses may ask the courts to file divorce records under seal. When it happens, sensitive information is kept confidential so that all parties cannot access it on request. The judge may either have the entire divorce record or just a portion of it under seal. The courts, though, will not file these automatically. Either spouse would have to request the service, and it falls on the judge to decide if they would want to grant the request with attention provided to substance issues, libel, and children.
The judge may also determine if the potential damage to the party making the request is more important than maintaining the accessibility of public records. It is rare that the whole record is kept sealed. Requesting to keep the record under seal means having to customize it by asking only to seal the damaging information. Courts may only seal as much information as required to protect the parties' privacy. The best thing is to state one's privacy concern clearly, then ask the courts to seal the related information as opposed to making a blanket claim to have the whole record sealed for ambiguous privacy reasons.
One of the main reasons a divorce is a public record is to maintain the transparency levels in court processes. Individuals may see what happens in courts by accessing the court information. Individuals can also see what information may lead to the judge's decision. By remaining positive and transparent, the court's filings remain accessible. Parties requesting a seal be put on their records have to illustrate that the information would damage them if it stays public. The courts can also agree the elements have been met to exercise levels of discretion and seal the records.
There are a few reasons why one would opt to keep their divorce proceedings a private matter. Some include protecting the children's identity within the divorce records. There is also a need to protect proprietary business information, which would cause a loss of revenue if the data is shared with outside parties.
Thirdly, divorce records may include documentation of domestic or sexual abuse. These are considered private matters, especially for the victims of such a situation, and would have to be kept confidential following the case. Typically such information is already assigned discretion for most county or state courts. However, it would be safer to make sure they are deemed confidential by issuing the specific request on the parts one would have kept as such.
If one is also a public figure, it may be pertinent to have the divorce records sealed for public image purposes. It also protects the individual from defamation or false allegations in the future. Though, embarrassing information might not be enough alone to convince the courts to have the divorce records sealed. Parties must demonstrate there will be damage incurred emotionally or financially by exposing the records.
Couples who want to have parts of their divorce records sealed without involving the courts can work together to make sure specific information is unavailable. One of the best ways to do this is to settle the matter out of court. Couples can also settle the divorce process by mediation. It means having a neutral third party negotiate the terms of the divorce. These approaches work best when the divorce is uncontested.