How to Look Up Divorce Records in California
California makes divorce records available to the public unless a divorce court has sealed the records. Any member of the public can access the papers of most divorce cases.
To be sure, the information in your divorce case could include personal details. Under some circumstances, the parties can ask the court to redact these details or seal the papers. But the parties must give a reason for redaction and judges rarely redact details simply because they might embarrass someone.
Here is some information about how to find divorce records in California and the details a court might keep confidential.
California Records Laws
California has a strong presumption in favor of making all court records publicly available. As such, you can almost always find some record of a divorce in California.
Divorce Records Are Available Online
California courts have online dockets that provide the case number, the filing date, the parties, and a list of the pleadings of a divorce case.
The electronic docket will also include a list of all the orders issued by the judge in the case. The electronic docket does not include copies of the parties’ filings.
Courts in California also make some court documents available online. But under California’s court rules, courts cannot post divorce filings online.
This means that if you want anything more than the online docket, you must visit the courthouse where the parties filed for the divorce.
Divorce Records Are Available at the Courthouse
You can access copies of all documents that a couple files in a divorce at the courthouse. You can also get copies of all decisions issued by the judge, including the final divorce decree.
The divorce decree sets out all the terms of the divorce, including:
Courts offer two types of certified records. Informational copies do not have the court’s seal on them. Authorized copies are official records of the court.
The court only makes authorized copies available to the parties and the lawyers in the case.
Rules for Confidential and Sealed Records
During a case, the parties can block some information from being released to the public. The two types of information that courts will not release to the public include:
Confidential Information Parties Must Redact
Under California’s court rules, court filings cannot include social security numbers or financial account numbers.
When the parties need to include this information in a court filing, the parties must prepare a confidential declaration containing the information and redact the information from the court filing.
Confidential Information Parties Agree to Redact
During divorce cases, the parties might agree to keep some information confidential. For example, both parties might want to keep bank statements, credit card records, business valuations, and other financial information confidential.
In most cases, you cannot access this information because it never entered the public record.
Courts do not routinely seal divorce records. But in special cases, a party can ask the court to seal individual documents or your entire case.
To seal a record, the party must give reasons. Privacy and embarrassment would probably not provide a basis under which to seal a record.
Some of the filings a court might seal include ones that:
- Contain health information
- Identify minor children
- Allege domestic violence
Even in these cases, a court must balance the presumption in favor of keeping records open against the parties’ interests in keeping them private.
You can petition a court to unseal a record. But you must give reasons that overcome the reasons originally given to seal it.
Ways Couples Can Avoid Public Disclosure
Since California makes divorce records readily available, many couples resolve their issues in a confidential settlement agreement and simply ask the judge to issue a divorce decree.
The public divorce decree will cover the main points of the divorce, but all of the underlying records will remain confidential.