Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
A divorce record is the resulting documentation from a divorce suit in which one party sues another for the termination of a marriage contract. Divorce is a civil action and a matter public record, open and available to research. Administered in the court systems, the process of obtaining a divorce and the location of the divorce records will vary by country. In the U. S., states with privacy laws may restrict access for a given period of time. Divorce records typically consist of a divorce decree, issued when the divorce is final, and case files that set forth the claims of suit and its settlement.
As with any court record, divorce records can contain valuable information for family history researchers. Divorce records are typically held by the county in which the divorce took place; however, divorce records are not as readily indexed as marriage and birth records and may harder to access. Know what you are requesting when ordering divorce records, either in person or through the mail. The divorce decree is typically a one-page document providing the name of each party and the date the divorce was granted. This is sufficient to confirm a divorce occurred, when and where. The most valuable information to genealogists, however, is contained in the case file, which provides the original marriage date and place; the name and dates of birth for all children; custody determination for minor children; plus a description of all property owned and the disposition of that property. County clerks typically charge by the page for copying divorce files, which may discourage some from obtaining the entire record, although the information obtained will generally outweigh the cost.