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How to Find a Divorce Record in California
When two married people who decide to reverse, annul, or otherwise invalidate that decision, it is known as a divorce, and that action is recorded. There are three different ways that a municipality notes this information, and understanding the differences can save you time when looking for this type of record.
Divorce records are considered court records. They may therefore be searched on third-party public record websites. Divorce records can offer personal information on minors, finances, and sensitive criminal information like domestic abuse. Because of this, divorce record, certificate, and decree availability is usually much lower than other types of public records because of the personal nature of divorces. Simply put, divorce records are significantly harder to obtain and search for than other types of public records.
A Divorce Certificate is a document that has the least information within, but is also the most common. Essentially, it states that two people got divorced, where they got divorced, and the time at which the divorce was finalized. These are usually used when the parties involved wish to change their name or file to be remarried. For example, if one of the parties involved wants to change the name on their driver’s license, they will need to have this document. Typically this document is only accessible by the two people who were divorced, and by the lawyers that oversaw the divorce proceedings, though some states allow others to obtain the record in specific circumstances.
A Divorce Decree is a document containing the same information as the Divorce Certificate, but also includes information on the divorce judgement itself. This includes all the terms of the divorce, including custody information, property allocations, spousal payments such as child support and alimony payment amounts and scheduling. The divorcees will need this document in order to make changes to document. The decree is signed by the judge involved and will include a court case number. Similar to the Divorce Certificate, this document is typically only available to the two people who were divorced, and their attorneys.
This document holds the most amount of information. It will contain the information from both the Certificate and the Decree, as well as every file and document from the entire divorce process. As such, a Divorce Record will act as a case file to document the divorce. It’s recommended to keep this file, when presented, for personal records or if one of the two parties getting divorces wishes to challenge the decision. These records are more public than the prior two, and can be searched for, obtained, and studied similar to court, criminal, and other public records. If searching for this record through traditional government sources, most municipal departments will require varying levels of identification and fees.
To obtain a Divorce Record (or Marriage Record) in the State of California, the first step is to visit the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or the Superior Court in the Superior Court of the county where the divorce was filed. The CDPH has been issuing certified copies of Birth and Death Records since 1905, and offers records on file from as early as that date. They are responsible for honoring both in-person and online requests for Birth, Death, and Marriage Records, and preparing new certificates for adoptions or changes in paternity information. They correct vital records when needed, and are responsible for maintaining a registry holding Marriage and Divorce Records. The Superior Court of the county where the divorce was filed however is where actual copies of the Divorce Record can be found, as the CDPH only offers Certificates of Record. While useful, they are a record of the record, and not a copy of the record itself.
To Search Through the California Department of Public Health
To get a copy of the Divorce Record you’re looking for through the CDPH, try using a third party website to expedite the process. If you decide to rely on traditional government services, there are a number of steps to complete first.
Determine which type of Divorce Record you need. There are two types of certified copies offered by the CDPH: an authorized copy, and an information copy.
The authorized copy can be used for official purposes such as establishing identity. Please note that both types of copies are defined as certified. An Authorized Copy can be obtained by:
- The registrant, or the parent or legal guardian of the registrant
- The child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or domestic partner of the registrant
- The party entitled to receive the record as result of a court order
- A member of a law enforcement agency or representative of a government agency who is conducting official business
An Information Copy contains the same information as an Authorized Copy, but is marked as an Informational Copy, and cannot be used as “a Valid Document to Establish Identity.” Please note that both types of copies are defined as certified.
Obtain a notarized, sworn statement, as it is required for obtaining certified copies of marriage and divorce records.
Be ready to pay between $14 for each copy of the Divorce Record you need. Make checks or money orders payable to “CDPH Vital Records”.
Use the pamphlet for obtaining certified copies of divorce records to determine you have all necessary materials and that you are legally allowed to obtain such a record. Then download the VS 113-B application and fill it out.
The CDPH only accepts orders of this nature through mail. The address to mail requests to is found below.
The California Department of Public Health
Vital Records - MS 5103
P.O. Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410
If using a courier service that will not deliver to P.O. Boxes, use this address instead.
The California Department of Public Health
Vital Records - MS 5103
1501 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95814
Please note that certified copies of actual divorce decrees can only be obtained from the Superior Court of the county where the divorce was filed. The CDPH can only issue a Certificate of Record, and only for divorces that occurred between 1962 and 1984. A Certificate of Record includes the names of those involved, the county where the divorce was filed, and the court case number. It will not indicate if the divorce was ever finalized in court.
Government public record search portals and third party public record websites both may provide court records search tools, which can help find divorce records, though record availability usually varies widely. Divorce records in particular may simply not be available through either source.
To Search Through the California Superior Court System
If you need an actual copy of the Divorce Record itself, the first step is to determine which superior court oversaw the divorce. California has 58 trial courts for each of its counties. These courts serve 58 million people. Once you determine which court is the one that oversaw the divorce in question, submit an official request form by contacting the court in question and speaking to the clerk. Once you have the form, mail it to the court in question, and you should hear back in 60 days. You may also visit the website of the court in question for additional information, as well as online method for gaining access to divorce records. As an alternative, certain sites allow you to search for divorce records by simply knowing the name of one of the two parties involved.
A list of all superior courts in California, including contact info, location, district, and websites.www.courts.ca.gov/find-my-court.htm
Divorce Rate in California
While the rate of divorce in California was, at one time, consistently higher than the national average, the state has seen a rapid decline in recent years. In 2017, the state had a reported divorce rate of 4.0 per 1,000 total resident population, compared to a national rate of 3.2 per 1,000. However, by 2021 the World Population Review estimated the divorce rate in California to be at about 9.30%.
There are several resources available for those interested in finding out more about divorce statistics in California. The California Department of Public Health maintains vital records, including divorce records. These records can be accessed online or by visiting the department's offices. The Superior Court of California also provides access to divorce records. Records are typically available within five business days after the filing date.
Finally, the National Center for Health Statistics provides national data on divorce rates, accessed through its website.
Does California Recognize Common-Law Marriages?
Although the state of California recognizes the validity of common law marriage created in other states, it does not recognize common-law unions created within its borders. California laws also confer some of the legal rights of married couples to those living under a domestic partnership. This union is only valid within the state. It has no federal recognition. Couples who move to California from a state that acknowledges common Law marriage are allowed to file divorce proceedings in court.