Are Divorce Records Public?

Hossein Berenji, Jul 15, 2020

Most couples do not want their marriage problems made public. However, when you file for divorce, that could happen. Many divorce records in California are public records.

Public records are available for viewing by anyone. You do not need to be a party to the action to view the records. You merely need to know where to look for the records and how to access public records.

Divorce certificates are available through the California Department of Public Health. For other divorce records, the party may need to contact the court that heard the case. Some public records are available online or by requesting copies from the court.

Why Would Someone Look at Your Divorce Records?

Being nosy is a common reason why someone might want to look at your divorce records. However, that generally applies to people who know you. Friends and family members may want to know what happened to end your marriage.

The general public typically does not have an interest in your divorce records, except for legitimate business reasons. Government agencies also use divorce records for statistical data. Keeping divorce records public also helps maintain the transparency of the court system.

Can I Ask the Court to Seal My Divorce Records?

Some divorce records are not a matter of public record. You do not have to ask for those records to be sealed. If a document contains sensitive information, it may not be included in the public record.

Examples of documents that might not be included in the public record include documents that:

  • Contain sensitive health information or healthcare records
  • Identify minor children
  • Relate to paternity cases
  • Financial documents
  • Identify the victims of domestic abuse or sexual abuse
  • Adoption records

If the court seals an entire case, a court order is required to view the records of that case. The court automatically seals adoptions and paternity cases. Only parties to the action and their lawyers can access these sensitive documents.

Parties to a divorce can request that the court seal the records. However, embarrassment is generally not a sufficient reason for the court to seal a divorce. The fact that a party is embarrassed by the information that might be revealed in court is not an adequate reason for the court to override the public interest in keeping court records public.

There are some instances in which the court may grant a request to seal the divorce records. A divorce lawyer can help you petition the court to seal the records. You will need an experienced attorney to argue why the sealing of the records is justified.

Redacting Sensitive Information From Divorce Records

If you are unable to seal the entire record, you might be able to seal specific documents or request that the court redact certain information.

Some information contained in a document is not relevant to the divorce case. Also, some information may be sensitive and expose the party to identity theft or other potential harm.

Redacting information means that some information is marked out on a document so that only the pertinent information remains. Celebrities and high-profile individuals often request redaction of their financial information because it is not a matter of public concern.

You must have a valid reason for asking the court to redact the information. An attorney can help you develop an argument to convince the court that redacting the information does not infringe on the public’s right to access divorce records.

How to Avoid Making Divorce Records Public?

Other than obtaining an order to seal the divorce records, your divorce remains public information. However, there are ways to limit the amount of information included in your divorce records.

If you have a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement, the amount of information included in the divorce records is limited. If the marital agreement is valid and legal, there is no need to argue about specific details in court because the marital agreement has already resolved those matters.

Mediation is private. The records from mediation are confidential. Only the final agreement becomes part of the public record in a divorce action.

Therefore, if you settle your divorce through mediation, you have some control over the information included in the public divorce record. Instead of arguing about the matter in open court, you and your spouse negotiate the terms of the divorce in a private, confidential setting. Your lawyers prepare a settlement agreement that contains just the terms of the settlement, not the underlying issues that led to the divorce.

Uncontested divorces and collaborative divorces do not have as much information in the divorce records because the couple does not argue about the terms of the divorce in court. As with mediation, only the settlement agreement needs to be filed with the court. It limits the amount of information available to the public.