California Court Records
What are California Divorce Records?
California divorce records are either court or vital records issued by the state for record-keeping purposes highlighting when and where the divorce was granted. There are 6.7 divorces per every 1,000 women above 15 years of age in California. Generally, there are two grounds for getting a divorce in California. These include irreconcilable differences and Incurable Insanity. A marriage or domestic partnership in the State of California ends in one of three ways:
Only divorces and legal separations end all legal bonds between parties. A divorce is finalized when a judge signs a formal judgment stating the date the marriage or domestic partnership ends. This record of the judgment is filed with the office of the Clerk of Court or the court’s records management office. As prescribed by the state’s law, it takes a minimum of six months to finalize a divorce in California from the moment of filing all paperwork.
The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.
Are Divorce Records Public in California?
California divorce records are a matter of public records as prescribed under the state’s Public Records Act (PRA). After the finalization of a divorce, the court hands over the divorce records to the state. The Act provides the public the right to inspect or copy available divorce records in the state.
Divorce processes are subject to court proceedings, records of which are indexed and filed along with other court records. The public may access divorce case information as other court case information.
Note, divorce records sealed by court order may not be accessible to the public. Requestors may obtain copies of a divorce record from the Superior Court in the county where the divorce was filed.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.
Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
What are the types of Divorce Records available in California?
The State of California provides two types of certified Divorce Records. These include the Divorce Decree and the Divorce Certificate. Court case files for divorce proceedings represent another type of divorce record available in California.
A divorce record may be an informational copy or an authorized copy. The informational copy is available to all members of the public, while the authorized copy is only provided to parties listed on the divorce certificate or the defending attorney. Note, informational copies have limited use for legal requirements.
A divorce decree is a court document representing the final order signed by a judge terminating a marriage. This copy provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party to the divorce. Other information found on a divorce decree includes financial responsibilities, division of assets and debts, child custody, visitation, alimony, child support, etc.
A divorce decree is an authorized divorce record provided by the Superior Court only to parties involved in the case and the attorneys.
A divorce certificate is a different record from a divorce decree. It is a vital record prepared and provided by the Vital Records Office of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH-VR). It is not as long as a divorce decree and consists only of the face sheet of the divorce action. Information provided on a divorce certificate includes the names of the parties to the divorce, the county where the divorce was filed, filing date, and the court case number.
As an informational copy, a divorce certificate obtainable in California is not a certified copy of the actual divorce decree. Therefore, it may not establish the divorce was ever finalized in the local court.
How Do I Get Divorce Records in California?
The process of obtaining a copy of a divorce decree in California varies from county to county. Most Superior Courts require submission of a written request, including the names of each party, the year of the divorce, and the court case number. A party to a divorce may access an actual copy of the divorce decree in any of the following ways:
- By mail-in request to the Office of the Clerk of the Superior Court or the court’s records management office
- In-person request at the courthouse where the divorce was completed
- View electronic copies of available divorce records from the public access terminal at the courthouse where the divorce was finalized
- Online request for Superior Courts that afford such service on their websites
Generally, these copies are provided at 50 cents per page and certified at $15. Other fees may apply depending on the manner of request with regards to a search, certification, exemplification, and authentication. The means of payment defer from county to county and will depend on the request process. A self-addressed stamped envelope and a request form may be required to complete a mail-in request.
To determine the location and contact of any Superior Court in the state, use the 'Find Your Court' directory available on the California Judiciary website.
The California Department of Public Health’s Vital Records department (CDPH) also provides copies of California divorce records. Copies provided by the CDPH are not the actual copy of the divorce decree but a Certificate of Record. This certificate contains the following information:
- The name of the parties
- Filing date
- The case number of the divorce
CDPH provides copies of the records maintained to anyone via mail at the cost of $14 each. To request a copy, download and complete the application form (Spanish copy).. Attach a check or money order for the fee to the completed form and return to:
California Department of Public Health
Vital Records-MS 5103
PO Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899–7410
Where the request is made using a courier service that demands a physical address for delivery, forward the mail to
California Department of Public Health
Vital Record-MS 5103
1501 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95814
Note, the CDPH only has available divorce records from 1962 through June 1984. For further information, contact the CDPH Customer Service Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at (916) 445–2684 or by email to CHSIVitalRecords@cdph.ca.gov.
While divorce and marriage records may be searched through government sources and organizations, the availability of these documents cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these entities are not government-sponsored; therefore, record availability may vary further. Also note that marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information the records contain, and are often sealed. Hence, bearing in mind that these factors determine the availability of any type of marriage or divorce record.
Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.
Who Can Obtain Divorce Records in California?
Informational copies of California divorce records are open to anyone; that is, these copies can be requested or viewed by any member of the public. However, authorized copies (Divorce Decrees) maintained by the Superior Court are provided to only:
- The parties to the divorce case
- The defense attorneys in the case
Are California Divorce Records available online?
California divorce records are not maintained centrally but by an individual trial court in each county. Hence are provided by the Clerk of each Superior Court.
Divorce records are court records that may be found on the court case information portal provided by each Superior Court on its local website. Information provided on these portals is not representative of the complete divorce records and may not indicate the finalization of the divorce case. These portals are relevant to determine the case number to request the actual divorce papers. Note, for counties whose Superior Courts do not provide a case lookup service on their website, visit the Clerk’s office at the courthouse.
Similarly, Superior Courts in more populous counties like Los Angeles provides separate access to the public to request certified electronic copies of divorce decrees online. This is done under the provision of the state’s statute; Government Code sections 68150 (a) (f) (g).
How Do I Seal My Divorce Records in California?
A court order is required to seal a publicly available divorce record in California. For copies of divorce records held by the California Department of Public Health, Vital Records office (CDPH-VR), citizens may appeal to have such copies sealed from public access.
It is usually difficult to secure an order to seal divorce records in California. The judge may not grant a sealing order solely on the agreement of both parties. A party seeking to seal a divorce record is required to apply with relevant reasons to justify the request. Confidential or private information that should not be divulged, such as financial details, are some of the tenable reasons for successful application to seal a record.
When an application is accepted, the judge sends a written order to the CDPH-VR to the effect. Consequently, the CDPH-VR will restrict the divorce record from public access. As with most court applications, requestors are advised to retain the service of a solicit to get a divorce record sealed.