Texas Divorce Laws

Are Divorce Records Public?

By:
Sophia Merton
Updated
April 28, 2022

Separation and divorce are two of the most stressful life events that a person can go through. Not only do you have to navigate a complex legal landscape, but it’s also financially and emotionally taxing. When you’re thinking about your divorce, another terrifying notion might occur to you– will everyone you know be able to access the sensitive details about your divorce? Are divorce records public?

The short answer to this question is yes. However, there are ways that you can avoid having the details of your settlement available to the public.

There are also methods you can use to have divorce records sealed if you are able to argue why your needs for privacy outweigh the public’s right to having access to information.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about divorce records so you can ensure that your confidential information isn’t easily accessible.

What Is a Divorce Record?

man signing divorce papers

The term "divorce records" actually refers to a number of different types of documents.

There are actually a number of different documents that are related to getting divorced that fall under the term “divorce record.” You’ll want to know about the information that is contained in the various divorce documentation in order to best protect your privacy.

Some of the documents that are frequently referenced when discussing divorce records include divorce decrees, divorce certificates, and divorce court records.

Divorce Court Records

The divorce court records are a collection of all of the various documents that have been filed as a part of the divorce case. This includes recordings and transcripts of in-court proceedings. Out of all of the different types of divorce records, this is the most detailed.

There can be a lot of information contained in divorce court records. They will include information about your children, your finances, your personal lives, and the reason that you got divorced.

Are you interested in getting divorced in Texas without using a lawyer? If so, check out this article to learn about getting a DIY divorce.

Divorce Decrees

gavel used by judge in divorce case

The divorce decree is the document that finalizes your divorce.

The divorce decree is the document that finalizes a divorce. This is what is signed by the judge at your final hearing. The information contained in this document can vary quite a bit.

Basically, some decrees can have tons of information about the specific terms of your divorce. This might include alimony, property division, child support, and child custody. In other instances, this document might just have a handful of details and otherwise just reference another document that contains the terms of the settlement reached between the two parties.

Divorce Certificates

This is an official document that is issued by a state office (such as the office of vital records or the health department) that tracks vital records in your state. There is not a lot of information about your divorce contained in these records. Typically, they will state your names, the date of the divorce’s finalization, and the address of the court where you had your final hearing.

This is the document that is frequently used to show proof of divorce or in order to determine whether or not someone is divorced.

Are Divorce Records Public?

court house for divorce

The laws in the state where you get divorced will impact how easy it is for others to access your divorce records.

Divorce records are typically a part of the public record. There are some states that don’t have any restrictions on access. This means that literally, anyone who is interested can request a copy of the divorce record for anyone else.

In most states, however, there are limits to who can access divorce records and for what reason. This is because these records can contain sensitive and personal information. In general, access to different types of divorce records will vary, and some are easier to access than others.

Public Access to Divorce Court Records

There is pretty much always going to be personal and sensitive information in divorce court records. The policies about who is allowed access to the complete divorce court records differ quite a bit between states and courts.

In pretty much every U.S. state, you have to request divorce court records from the specific court where the divorce was finalized. It is common for courts to only give out copies of these records to the parties that were involved in the case or the lawyers that represented them.

People that do have a direct interest in the case might be allowed to view some of the documents. However, they might not be allowed to copy them.

Public Access to Divorce Decrees

In many states in the United States, who can access divorce decrees is limited. This is because these documents can contain a lot of personal and sensitive information about personal matters, children, or finances. As an example, a state might make it so only the parties involved and their attorneys can access these documents. People who are able to prove that they have a legal interest might also be allowed access.

In order to get a copy of a divorce decree, in most states you have to request a copy directly from the court that issued it. This usually is accompanied by a small fee.

Public Access to Divorce Certificates

As we discussed above, divorce certificates have minimal details about the divorce included on them. This means that they are the easiest to access out of any of the different types of divorce records. In many states, there are only few restrictions, if any, regarding who is allowed to get a copy.

There are many online court record services through which people can pay a fee in order to get a copy of a divorce certificate. They can also be requested from the office that is responsible for tracking vital records in the state where you got divorced.

In order to get a copy of a divorce certificate, a person typically needs to know the names of the parties involved, the location of the court where the divorce decision occurred, and the case number.

Can You Seal Your Divorce Court Record?

In many courts across the country, it is standard practice to redact certain types of information. For example, things like your bank account numbers and Social Security numbers might be blacked out from the public record. However, it’s a good idea to check with your court to make sure that they do this. It’s also a good idea to never include any sensitive information as a part of your court filings unless it is necessary to do so.

If you are hoping to protect the information in the documents beyond the types of info they usually redact automatically, there is a process you can go through. At least one spouse has to ask the court that decided the divorce to seal the record.

What does it mean for a court to seal a record?

Basically, it means that the court will keep a copy of the document in question for their own records. However, strict restrictions will be placed on the documents when it comes to who can view them and copy them. This means that the documents will no longer be accessible or available to the public.

You will need to explain why you specifically want your records sealed, however. In particular, you will need to be able to argue why the public’s right to access the information is outweighed by your privacy concerns.

It is common for courts to grant these types of requests for certain types of information, including:

  • Physical or mental health information
  • Identifying information about minor children
  • Proprietary business information
  • Details about child or domestic abuse
  • False allegations that were made during the divorce proceedings by a spouse

You will have to ask for which specific parts of the file you would like to be sealed by the judge. If your request is granted, they will only seal the portion that you asked to have sealed.

As an example, you might be worried that your business could be harmed by the financial information contained in your divorce records. If your request is granted, the court will only seal the parts of the record that pertain to your company’s finances. The rest of the divorce records will still remain public, rather than the entirety of your divorce records being made inaccessible by the public.

There are some limited and specific situations where a court might allow access to a sealed record to someone who isn’t one of the parties involved or their lawyers. In general, though, it is very difficult to access a sealed record. In order to gain access to a sealed record, the interested party would have to formally petition the court. Typically, they will also have to go to a hearing and describe why they are making the request.

Are you wondering if your divorce petition expires? If you're getting divorced in the state of Texas, check out this article to learn more.

How to Keep Your Divorce as Private as Possible

two people shaking hands on a divorce settlement

Settling your divorce out of court is one step you can take toward keeping your personal information private.

If you are concerned about the details of your divorce being public, there are a number of ways that you and your spouse can work together to limit how much information is available to the public. One of the easiest and most convenient ways to ensure that the details of your divorce are kept confidential is to not take your divorce to court and instead settle it out of court.

There are a lot of different ways to avoid going to court for divorce, even if you and your spouse don’t agree on all of the divorce terms right out the gate. Mediation is a popular tactic, which allows both parties to meet with a trained and neutral mediator that helps them work out the details of the divorce terms.

Collaborative divorce is another option on the table. In this process, the parties and their attorneys all agree to work together to come to a settlement. If they aren’t able to come to an agreement during this process, the couple hires new lawyers and begins all over again.

If you and your spouse are able to agree on the terms of your divorce, you can then draft what is known as a divorce settlement agreement. You can then request that the court doesn’t include this settlement in the court documents but instead only references it.

In this instance, the documents that are filed as a part of the case will still be a part of the public record. However, this is one of the best ways to ensure that the specific details of your settlement are kept private and confidential.

Depending on your state, you might also be able to add a confidentiality clause to your official divorce papers. This can mean that you can achieve a higher level of privacy than you would in a standard legal proceeding.

A clause like this might be able to bar your spouse from talking about your divorce with anyone else. If they were to break this clause, they might have to pay punitive damages to you. This can be a tool used in divorces that are particularly messy, as they help to make sure that private details about your personal life don’t ever leave the courtroom.

Of course, maybe you are more concerned about keeping your divorce quiet in your town rather than the small chance that someone will try and track down your divorce records.

In this instance, a good tip for keeping your divorce private from the people around you in your life is to only talk to professionals about it. The fewer people you mention your divorce to, the less chance the news will spread among the people you know. Instead, talk to doctors, therapists, attorneys, and other professionals about the topic.

Is Learning About Divorce Making You Dizzy?

When you are getting divorced, it can feel like there is way more on your plate than you can handle. Trying to navigate the legal process, the financial burden, and grieve the loss of your marriage all at once can feel like an impossible burden. While there is no denying that this is a difficult time, understanding the ins and outs of divorce law in your state can help you understand what your rights are and how to best proceed with your divorce.

That’s why we created TexasDivorceLaws.org. Our growing library of resources is intended to serve the people of Texas with all of the most vital information for anyone getting married or divorced.

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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