How to Get a Copy of a Divorce Decree

Learn more about the steps you can take to obtain a copy of your divorce decree.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School
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When Do You Normally Get a Divorce Decree?

Whether you and your ex-spouse had an amicable divorce, or you battled through a contentious divorce trial, at the end of your divorce proceedings, the judge will issue a final judgment of divorce laying out all of the provisions for your case. Some courts call the judgment of divorce "JOD" or "Divorce Decree." After finalizing your divorce, the court will issue the final decree to both spouses, but only after entering it into the court system.

If you and your ex-spouse created your own divorce decree, the judge will sign it, enter it into the court system, and provide you and your ex-spouse a certified copy.

What Happens If You Lose Your Divorce Decree?

The divorce decree contains all the essential provisions on child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, and any other critical element of your divorce.

Both spouses should keep a copy of their divorce decree in a safe place. Some spouses choose to leave a certified copy with their attorney, while others place it in a safe location at home. It's critical to keep a copy, especially if you have children or financial support provisions. The court expects both spouses to comply with the court order, so you must get a new copy if you lose it.

If you lose your certified copy of the divorce decree, you should request a new copy from the court where you finalized your divorce. Some courts offer an online search tool for spouses to locate divorce documents, like the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara.

Some courts will require you to pay a fee, but the clerk will provide you with a new, certified copy once you do. A certified copy means that the court verified the document, which may be necessary if you're presenting your divorce decree for a legal reason, such as a new marriage.

You may also request a copy of your divorce decree from the state or local vital records department where you divorced. Vital records include marriage licenses, divorce decrees, and birth or death records. Some states offer the option to apply for a copy of your decree online for a fee. Some states require a waiting period before you're allowed to request a new copy, so if you lose it 30 days after your divorce, you may need to wait before the state provides you a new copy.

If you hired an attorney for your divorce proceedings, you could request a copy of your divorce decree from the lawyer's office. While state laws don't usually require attorneys to keep client files indefinitely, most require them to keep the files for a minimum amount of time.

For example, in Michigan, lawyers must retain client files for a minimum of 5 years (6 years for tax records.) After 5 years, the attorney must notify the clients before destroying the file. If you finalized your divorce and your lawyer destroyed your file, you will need to obtain a copy of your decree using one of the other methods listed in this article.

What Information Should You Provide to Replace Your Decree?

You'll need to provide a copy of your driver's license or state identification and divorce case number in most cases. If you mail a request to the state's records department, you should include:

  • names of each spouse
  • date of your request
  • the date of the divorce
  • the location (court) of divorce
  • the type of final decree
  • the purpose for why you need it
  • your name and address
  • your driver's license information (and a copy)
  • the state's required request form, and
  • your signature.

If you can't provide all of the necessary information, you may need to pay an additional fee for the court to research the case for you.

Can Anyone Obtain a Copy of the Divorce Decree?

In general, divorce decrees are public records, and anyone can request it if they pay the fee and submit the necessary forms. However, some states require a signed and notarized document, like a letter or affidavit, from one of the spouses involved in the divorce, granting permission for you to obtain a copy.

If and your ex-spouse created a divorce settlement agreement, it's likely that the settlement portion (the details) of the divorce is private and not available to the public.

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