How Do I Get a Copy of a Divorce Decree That Is Twenty Years Old?

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A divorce decree declares a divorce finalized and provides the terms of the divorce. It may contain information about child support payments, alimony and division of property. Your divorce decree may be necessary to prove that you have a legal right to a certain piece of property; to use as evidence in a petition to change back to your maiden name or if you wish to get remarried. State laws vary regarding how long these records must be kept by attorneys, but if your case was handled by an attorney, this may be the easiest starting point for obtaining your decree.

Contact the attorney who handled your divorce to see if she has a copy of the decree. If your attorney is deceased or retired, she may have given her records to another lawyer in the practice. If so, contact that attorney to see if he has your records.

Ask the clerk of court in the county in which the divorce was filed about the procedure to obtain a copy of your divorce decree. Some counties require photo identification and proof of your current address. You may need to pay a record search or copying fee. Some counties require you to fill out an application for the decree. Many states move divorce and other legal records to the court's archives after several years, so if the clerk does not have access to your decree, ask who you can contact in the archives division. You might be able to access the records more quickly or at a reduced rate if you have the case number.

Write to the person in charge of the court's archives to obtain a copy of your divorce decree. In most states, divorce decrees are covered under open records laws and the state must provide you with this information within a few days. For this reason, your request should be in writing and sent via certified mail, return receipt requested. If you are seeking the divorce record for a divorce to which you were not a party, this is typically the easiest way to obtain records.

Tips

  • You may need a certified copy of your divorce decree, which is signed or stamped by the clerk to indicate it is valid. Make sure to ask for a certified record rather than just a copy.

    If you are not a party to the divorce and the county records office will not provide you with the decree, get a signed statement from both parties to the divorce authorizing you to view the decree. You can also request that one of the parties obtain the decree for you.

    Some states classify divorce records -- but not the decree itself -- as vital records. You may be able to obtain a copy of the divorce record from your state department of public health and then use the case number and information on this record to obtain copies of the decree itself.

Warnings

  • Most state agencies will not accept checks; however, many accept only cash or money orders. Make sure you take the proper payment method with you to the clerk's office.

References

About the Author

Brenna Davis is a professional writer who covers parenting, pets, health and legal topics. Her articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as on websites. She is a court-appointed special advocate and is certified in crisis counseling and child and infant nutrition. She holds degrees in developmental psychology and philosophy from Georgia State University.