walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Link-Fu on Divorce Records

There will be editing. I'm not going to mark editing-to-add; it's just going to grow/change.



Highlights: "Massachusetts divorce records since 1922 are located at the county probate court in which the libellant filed."

Here's a trap for the unwary: "divorce records are generally filed in the county where the couple last lived as husband and wife - not necessarily where they last lived at the time of the divorce."

"A statewide index, from 1952 to the present is available at the Massachusetts Department of Health's Registry of Vital Records in Boston. This statewide index is known to contain many errors and omissions. It is only an index. The actual divorce files are, for the most part, still located at the county probate court. In addition to the statewide index at the DPH, each probate county court maintains a county wide index to divorce records since 1922.

Before 1922 and as far back as 1887, divorce cases were heard in the various county Superior Courts, such as Suffolk County Superior Court."

It goes on to list more indexes, and to work backwards in time and how divorces were handled and where the cases can be found.

That website is NOT a state website; it's a genealogical service and a member of the Public Record Retrieval Network, whose code of ethics can be found here:


This suggests one reason some of this stuff is hard to find explained in detail anywhere; people are making a living off of doing it as a service.

Here's what I used to get started in Washington State, from a government website.


Good freaking luck finding out anything about IOWA: It looks like the state has an index starting in 1906, but everything is _still_ kept at the District Court in the county where the divorce was granted.

New York has decrees before 1963 and certificates thereafter, and if this is to be believed, you can get it through the Department of Health:


But only if you are a party or have a court order. The genealogy page only lists BMDs, not divorces. BUT if you go here:


It's the usual drill: "contact the County Clerk in the County where the divorce action was heard"

Alas, when you look at a particular county, it looks like they mean it when they say you can't get a copy:


"Divorce files are sealed documents and are only available to the plaintiff, defendant or attorneys of record. Identification is required to view a divorce file. You may review a divorce file that you are not a party to by obtaining a notarized statement from one of the litigants or with a court order."

Oregon has a subscription system for accessing court information (fee for service):


I have no idea if that gets you everything they have that's allowed or just after a certain year.

They seem to be public records unless they aren't and Multnomah, the most populous county, gives a phone number to call to get a copy so it seems it must be possible. They aren't held at the State Level, unless OJIN has something; they're at the Circuit Court.


"Divorce decrees for Multnomah County date from the 1850's. Requests must be made in person or in writing to the Circuit Court's Dissolution of Marriage Records Unit. Records dating through 1983 are available on microfilm for research at the Circuit Court on a walk-in basis. Records dated 1984 and later must be ordered in advance and researched on site. The Multnomah County Circuit Court does not provide certified copies. Knowing the case number speeds the ordering process significantly."

The reverses the usual situation, in that older stuff is easier to get than newer things.

Idaho: http://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/?TabId=82

Typical situation: state level starting in May 1947, before that county level.

"The Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics maintains birth and death records filed from July 1911 to the present, and marriage and divorce records filed from May 1947 to the present. Some counties may have older birth, death, marriage, or divorce records in their files, but county files contain only records of vital events that occurred in that county. ... divorce certificates are legally confidential in Idaho for 50 years."

California: at the county level right down to now.


"Divorce Records. Certified copies of actual divorce decrees are only available from the Superior Court in the county where the divorce was filed. CDPH Vital Records can only issue a Certificate of Record - and only for divorces that occurred between 1962 and June 1984. A Certificate of Record includes the names of the parties to the divorce, the county where the divorce was filed, and the court case number. A Certificate of Record is not a certified copy of the divorce decree, and does not indicate whether the divorce was ever finalized in court. Our processing times can easily exceed 6 months."

They are apparently having trouble keeping up with requests for authorized certified birth records for ID purposes and everything else is backlogged as a result. I wonder what a "confidential marriage record" is?

"Authorized" in California records speak = you can only get it if you are a party or have special permission. Everyone else gets information. Certified applies to both. I'm pretty sure this is approximately how Washington works as well.


This is NOT clear at all.

"Birth records are public information 100 years after the date of the event; death, marriage, and divorce records, 50 years after the event. Vital Records are available to immediate family members only- mother, father, husband, wife, child, brother, sister and grandparents with valid ID. Birth records can be issued to the legal guardian with proof of custody papers. Aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, etc. cannot obtain a Vital Record."

I _think_ they mean you can get a copy of the divorce record 50 years after the fact. But I could be wrong.

Their application form requires you to know where and when the divorce happened, so that's clearly not the real process, and probably not anything more than a record that requires you to go somewhere else for the actual decree. Either way, it looks like they only have stuff from 1918 on.

Ah, here we go. Library of Virginia sez:


"Before the disestablishment of the Anglican church in 1786, there was no legal divorce. In some instances, a financial separation between husband and wife was recorded in a deed book. From 1786-1848, divorces were accomplished by legislative petition. After 1848, divorces were recorded in the county or circuit court order books."


"Availability of Records for Research

In many cases, the original record books and loose papers (suit papers) have remained in the locality where they were created and are kept in the office of the circuit court clerk. Microfilm copies of extant record books are available at the Library of Virginia from the date of the formation of the county or city to approximately 1865, along with a growing collection of post-Civil War holdings. A Guide to Virginia County and City Records On Microfilm may be found on the Library's Web site. Microfilm copies are also available through interlibrary loan."

Connecticut (this is _so_ familiar at this point):

How Do I Request A Divorce Decree or Dissolution of Civil Union Decree?

"The Vital Records Office does not receive copies of divorce decrees. To obtain a copy of a Divorce Decree or Dissolution of Civil Union Decree, contact the CT Superior Court where the divorce or dissolution was granted. Please contact the appropriate court for applicable fees and requirements: Directory of Connecticut Superior Courts."

If all you want is the names of the parties and a date, I suppose the vital records department of some state somewhere might be helpful. But if you want to actually learn anything from or about a divorce, you need the decree. And those are almost always at the county Superior or equivalent court where the divorce was granted.

Period. End. Once statutory divorce is over, this is the story, in toto.
Tags: genealogy
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