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How to Find Divorce Papers Like the Divorce Decree You’ll Need All Too Often?

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If you’re at all like me you’ll probably have buried your divorce papers into a box somewhere never expecting to need them again. Well, not so fast because as you’ll learn just as I have, there are some very common reasons to reference them or even present them to officials for a good chunk of time to come.

It’s overwhelming to navigate complex issues that emerge during the dissolution of marriage. When the divorce process is complete, the records are preserved for future reference. Normally, the decree is simply mailed to you by the family court or maybe even via your divorce attorney. Divorce records consist of all legal documents related to marriage termination, and not just the divorce decree which is signed by the judge. In most cases, divorce records “mainly consist” of the items in the divorce decree like important issues regarding the couples’ parenting agreement, grounds for divorce, and financial arrangement.

When Is A Divorce Decree Issued?

Whether people who are married decide to solve issues through mediation or to go to trial, a divorce certificate must be issued at the end of the divorce proceedings. The certificate is generally the provision of final judgment and is called the “decree”.

On the flip side, if you and your spouse solved your issues out of a family court, the judge will sign the divorce decree you created. The purpose of a judge signing the divorce decree is to make it an enforceable document for future legal reasons. The judge then enters the decree into the family court system and provides spouses with a divorce certificate.

What To Do After Losing the Divorce Decree?

The divorce decree is an essential document that contains provisions on marital estate division, child custody arrangements, and child support, among other critical elements.

Therefore, spouses are advised to ensure they both have access to divorce decrees for fast retrieval. Some spouses choose to keep their copy at home while others leave it with their lawyer. Both spouses are expected to abide by the decree provisions at all times.

If you misplace your decree, you can get a copy from the court that finalized your divorce petition. Numerous courts have public record websites where spouses can key in their details and locate copies of divorce documents and decrees. Sometimes they might be hard to navigate since they are, in reality, run by government agencies… Not always the most helpful to the consumer!

On the other hand, some courts ask for a fee (and maybe an application form) and provide a certified original copy of a divorce decree. A certified copy means the copy is verified and approved by the family court.  A verified copy comes in handy when you are dealing with legal matters such as remarrying and divorce verifications.

Additionally, you may get a copy from the state records department where you divorced. Your local government agencies keep vital records such as birth certificates, death certificate(s), marriage licenses. Other states allow the public to apply for a copy of the divorce decree by filing an application form online. There are many third-party websites that offer records search tools.

Divorce parties who hired a divorce attorney to represent them in court proceedings can request a copy of the divorce decree from their office as an alternative method.  A significant number of states allow attorneys to keep their clients’ divorce records, marriage certificates, and other documents for a considerable amount of time.

What Do You Need to Get A Copy of Your Divorce Decree from Family Court?

Many states require you to provide your divorce case number and a form of identification or driver’s license to replace your decree. When mailing your local records departments, ensure you provide the following information.

  • Name of both spouses including any maiden names
  • The court that finalized the divorce
  • Type of divorce
  • Your name
  • The reason why you need a copy of the divorce decree
  • Your (a copy possibly) identification card information
  • Signature and date of request

What Is A Public Record?

Public records are filed and retained by government agencies for future reference. Any person who needs the information can search reports, access, inspect and examine divorce filings without limitation.

Most public offices are required to make family court records accessible by the public for transparency purposes.

Are Divorce Certificates Public?

Not all divorce documents are made public. A sensitive family court matter whose records could be harmful is kept away from the public.  A court seals documents of a sensitive case which can only be sealed after obtaining a court order.

In some circumstances, family courts find it essential to seal divorce cases involving domestic abuse, child abuse, propriety business information, and personal identification numbers. Some of this personally identifiable information that could become harmful would include your social security number and even the account numbers from your debit cards.

What Are Sealed Divorce Records?

Courts may seal some portions of sensitive divorce records so that they don’t appear on government-generated public records. The public has a right to access divorce records such as legal paperwork and divorce certificates.

However, one or both parties to a marriage dissolution may request a family court to seal their divorce decree documents for various reasons. Sealed copies of divorce records are confidential information that isn’t available on public record search portals.

The divorcing parties must convince the probate and family court that allowing public access to their marriage dissolution papers may harm their person, business or negatively affect their minor child, among other issues.

Why Are Some Divorce Records Sealed in Probate and Family Court?

A family court can approve an application to seal divorce documents relating to:

  • Vital proprietary and finance records of a company
  • Records relating to minors
  • Vulnerable personal information that could be manipulated when exposed to the public
  • Protection of a victim of sexual offenses, domestic abuse, or child abuse
  • Addiction or mental illness of a spouse
  • Jail records 
  • Criminal driving violations and other criminal records

Keeping in Mind a Dissolution Petition is Public

Divorce is a nightmare that can worsen with the thought that your family and friends can access your confidential information. Therefore, it is prudent to make sound decisions when choosing what to include as evidence in your divorce proceedings. If you must provide sensitive information, it is crucial to apply to seal it.

How to Motion and Get Permission for Sealed Divorce Papers?

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Provide a Valid Reason

You must present valid reasons to the court why you want the sealed divorce records. The reasons must be compelling enough for the court to open the sealed documents.

Know the Requirements Under Which a Court Grants Permission

Start by researching your state’s requirement for opening sealed divorce papers. As an example, Florida courts may open sealed divorce decree documents of their own will or when requested through a petition. A person seeking to obtain sealed divorce papers must file a petition and serve it to the court.

The application must provide necessary documents in compliance with the requirements of unsealing divorce papers. In some states, an applicant can write a letter to the judge describing the reasons for the request to open sealed divorce papers.

Attend the Hearing

Once you send an application, the court clerk will notify you when a motion is filed. You are required to attend the hearing and convince the court why the sealed divorce papers should be opened. The court may unseal the documents or turn down your request depending on the divorce record types, and your reasons for wanting to see the contents.

Read and Understand the Court Order

If your request is approved, it is prudent to read and understand the terms and conditions of the approval. The court may either unseal divorce documents to the public or to a particular party in the request.

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