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How to Find a Divorce Record in California
When two married people decide to reverse, annul, or otherwise invalidate that decision, it is known as a divorce. Couples can initiate divorce proceedings in California by filing divorce papers in a superior court. Among other duties, the superior court serves as the divorce court in California and has jurisdiction to issue divorce decrees (the final court judgment that ends marriages). Notably, a divorce decree is only one of the three types of dissolution of marriage records created by public agencies after a divorce proceeding. Others include a divorce certificate and divorce case file. Understanding the differences between each divorce document and who has legal access can save one time when searching for divorce records in California.
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 divorce document that contains the least information but is also the most common. Essentially, it states that two people filed divorce papers in California, the county where they got divorced, and when the divorce was finalized. A divorce certificate is usually requested when the parties involved in the divorce agreement wish to change their names or remarry. For example, if one of the divorced parties wants to change the name on their driver’s license, they will need to have this document. Typically, this divorce document is only accessible to the two ex-spouses and the lawyers who oversaw the divorce proceedings. Although, 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 it also includes information about the divorce judgment. This includes custody information, property allocations, and spousal payments such as child support and alimony payment amounts and scheduling. The decree is signed by the judge involved and will include a court case number. Similar to a divorce certificate, this document is typically only available to the people who filed divorce papers (i.e., the spouse who filed the original divorce petition or the respondent spouse) and their attorneys. The divorcees will need to request this document in order to make changes to their divorce agreement. Besides mail and in-person request methods, the superior court clerks (the custodians of divorce decrees in California) may allow eligible persons to order divorce decrees online.
The divorce record holds the most amount of information. This divorce document contains all information in the divorce decree and certificate, as well as every case file and document from the divorce process. Essentially, the divorce record is the superior court’s case file, which the court maintains for future legal purposes, such as if one of the two parties submitted divorce papers in California wishes to challenge the decision. Divorce records are more public than other dissolution of marriage records and can be searched for, obtained, and examined, similar to other public records. If searching for divorce records in California through traditional government sources (i.e., through the superior clerk’s offices), requesters may need to pay a fee for copies. Clerk’s offices may require varying levels of identification and fees.
Find Public Divorce Records Online
California law allows public access to marriage dissolution records created or maintained in the state. Hence, individuals can obtain divorce records from government agencies like the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and superior court clerk’s offices, so long as no statute, common law, or court order restricts access. However, among government sources, online access to divorce records is available only from the courts. Interested persons can check the applicable court clerk’s website (the administrative office of the presiding divorce court) for an online database to order or retrieve divorce records. To search such databases, an individual will usually require the following information:
- Each spouse’s full name
- The county where the divorce was filed
- The case number
- The filing date
Other than the government agencies, the public may also use third-party public record websites to expedite the process of acquiring California divorce records online. These sites usually search statewide for a divorce record, which allows the requester to identify the county of filing for a divorce record, at the very least.
How to Obtain California Divorce Records In Person or by Mail
Individuals can search divorce records in California through the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or the superior court in the county where the divorce was filed.
To get a copy of the divorce record through the CDPH, individuals can follow these steps:
- Download and complete the Application for Certificate of Record for a Divorce (VS 113-B) form.
- Enclose a $16 fee for the request. The fee must be in check or money order made payable to “CDPH Vital Records.” This fee is non-refundable, even if the record is not found. Without this fee, the CDPH will reject the request.
- Send the request form and fee by mail. The CDPH only accepts orders of this nature by mail. The address to mail requests is as follows:
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
The processing time for each request is six to eight weeks.
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 for divorces recorded from 1962 to June 1984. Also called a dissolution of marriage certificate, 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.
To obtain a copy of a divorce record, the requester must determine which superior court oversaw the divorce. California has 58 trial courts. These courts serve 58 million people. After determining the presiding court, the requester can submit an official request form. This form can be obtained from the superior court clerk’s office. Upon completing the form, the individual should mail it to the court in question and expect to hear back from the court in 60 days. The requester may also visit the website of the court in question for additional information, as well as to find online methods to search divorce records in California.
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.
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.
How to Get a Divorce in California
Any person who wants to get a divorce in California must ensure that they meet the state’s residency requirement. Per Cal. Fam. Code § 2320, the petitioner or their spouse must have lived in California for the preceding six months and in the county of filing (the locality where the original divorce papers will be filed) for the preceding three months. Note that other residency requirements apply for same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships.
A spouse who satisfies California’s marriage dissolution rules can file divorce papers in the California superior court having jurisdiction over the case. The forms to file are listed below.
- Petition—Marriage/Domestic Partnership (or form FL-100). Here, the petitioner must provide basic marriage information and indicate which orders they want the court to enter regarding property division, child support, and other divorce issues.
- Summons (or form FL-110). The Summons informs the respondent (the other spouse) of the court case. A respondent has 30 days to file an answer with the court.
- Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (or form FL-105). Only a petitioner who has kids under 18 must fill out this form. The form carries information about the petitioner’s children, including name, date of birth, sex, place of birth, place of residence, and if the children are involved in any other court proceeding.
The above forms can be downloaded from the state court website. However, any individual who wishes to get a divorce in California should also ask the superior court clerk's office if additional forms must be submitted.
Aside from the required divorce forms, the petitioner must also pay a fee that the law prescribes to start the case. This fee ranges from $435 to $450. Petitioners may request a fee waiver if they cannot afford the sum.
After submitting the divorce papers and fee, the next step is to serve the respondent. Service should be performed using a legally approved method, such as personal service or service by mail. As earlier stated, respondents have 30 days to respond to the service. Otherwise, the court may finalize the divorce by default judgment upon the expiry of the statutory waiting period. In California, the divorce waiting period is a minimum of 6 months.
After the filing and service processes, spouses would be expected to share financial information, settle property division and financial matters, decide on support, and other issues related to the divorce agreement. Where spouses cannot agree or fail to participate in these proceedings, the court can step in to make decisions about the divorce at a trial. Subsequently, the prospective divorcees must submit the final paperwork to the court to conclude the divorce case.
Notably, spouses who have been married less than five years, have no children, and are filing for an uncontested divorce can qualify for a simplified divorce, which California calls “summary dissolution.” Generally, whether filing for a summary or regular marriage dissolution, uncontested divorces are typically finalized in a shorter period.
The California court system provides a detailed self-help guide about the summary dissolution process and other divorce processes relevant to the state. Spouses with complex or contested divorce cases may also consider legal advice or representation for their court proceedings.