You probably don’t have paparazzi following your every move, but that doesn’t mean privacy during divorce, and afterward, isn’t important to you and your family. So the question often comes up, are divorce records public?
We see it all the time in the media. Magazines, TV shows, and websites created a cottage industry sharing the salacious details of celebrity splits. It’s a tabloid staple and the public can’t get enough, but how private and secure is your information?
Are Divorce Records Public?
In short, yes. Court proceedings, including divorce records, are generally matters of public record.
This means that various documents are out there for the taking. Divorce certificates and divorce decrees are among those available. If you have the time, desire, a few dollars for fees, and specific details about a person, just about anyone can access this information.
There are multiple ways to access divorce records:
- You can go through the government.
- Private companies also delve into the available databases for you, for a cost.
- Sometimes all it takes is an in-depth Google search to locate what you’re looking for.
The more information a person has, the easier it becomes to track down your records. Name, date of birth, and the state where the divorce took place, among other details, all serve to narrow down a search.
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Why Do You Need Divorce Records?
While this sounds like a shady business at first glance, there are legitimate reasons for tracking down divorce records.
Following a divorce, many people want to distance themselves from their marriage. Name changes are common. To alter your name on a state-issued ID, the title of a vehicle, or the deed to a home, you may need a divorce certificate.
Second marriages are also commonplace. You may need to show proof that you’re no longer married to receive a marriage license. A divorce certificate offers one way to verify that fact.
It’s easier than ever to go online and explore your family tree. Divorce records often form a substantial piece of people’s research into their lineage. You can trace distant relations, search for unknown relatives, and learn about the lives of various ancestors.
If your ex fails to abide by the terms of the settlement, you may need to take legal action. A divorce decree lays out the specifics of your split in explicit detail. Before taking legal action, it’s important to double-check the terms.
While this is the type of document you should keep in a safe place, we know that doesn’t always happen. Documents get lost and sometimes you need a new copy.
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Can Divorce Records Be Sealed?
In some cases, the court can seal records, thus protecting privacy during divorce and afterward. Like singer and former Spice Girl, Mel B., couples going through a divorce can request their records be sealed. In most cases, however, you have to ask for it. The courts rarely seal divorce records on their own.
One or both parties involved in the case must make the request and file the application. You can do it on your own or work in tandem with your soon-to-be-ex. After looking over your application, the judge ultimately rules on whether or not to seal your divorce records.
In order to get this decision, you must show damage was done by leaving this information public and that outweighs the court documents being available for widespread scrutiny.
People have the right to know what happens in the courts. Transparency is a vital part of the process, so courts are often reluctant to seal documents without substantial justification.
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Reasons To Seal Divorce Records
A judge won’t seal divorce records simply because they might reveal embarrassing information to the public. You can’t go this route just because you don’t want people to see the sordid details of your split.
Common reasons to seal court records:
- Protect the identity of children.
- Protect victims of abuse.
- Safeguard sensitive details like bank records and social security numbers, and to
- Shield information about businesses.
If a case features false accusations against one party, allegations that may damage a person’s reputation or constitute libel, the courts may also consider this move. But again, just because you find certain information awkward or uncomfortable, that’s not reason enough.
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Tips to Protect Your Privacy
It’s amazing what is and isn’t part of the public record. Divorce documents are certainly out there and available for those inclined to look. An intensely personal time, you don’t want people to access divorce records and root around in your business.
Fortunately, you’re probably not a celebrity, so your every move doesn’t take place in the public eye. But you can still safeguard yourself, even without a judge closing court proceedings.
- Keep a low profile.
- Don’t broadcast the details of your divorce all over social media.
- Know that anything you write, Tweet, or text can come into play in your case. From there, it becomes part of the public record, so think before you hit send.
- Most importantly, be smart about what you put out into the world during this time.
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