When a person in the United States gets married or divorced both of these life-changing events are put into the public record. Those records are then stored in various state or federal government locations depending on where the marriage or divorce was finalized. There they stay until someone needs to access them for any reason that demands an official copy of either (or both) records.
For example, if you’re getting re-married, many states ask for your divorce papers before you can marry again. If you move overseas to work you’ll need to prove that you’re married with an official copy of your marriage certificate, or you may need it to qualify for some types of insurance. If your spouse passes away their work might ask for your marriage records in order to pay you their 401(k) and/or any benefits that pass on to you and your family.
Whatever the situation, if you need a copy of either your marriage or divorce paperwork you’re certainly allowed to access it, but there’s the rub; many folks don’t know where, or how, to do that. That’s why we put together this article, to help you find your marriage and divorce records when you need them. So read on for our Top 11 Tips To Find U.S. Marriage and Divorce Records.
1. Public Records Can Be Found at the Public Library
With the rise of the internet and direct, almost instant access to the world’s information through computers and smartphones, public libraries all over the United States have become like ghost towns. Yes, some people still use them, but not nearly at the frequency they used to back in the 20th century. Surprisingly, however, that’s where many public records are stored and, if you were married or divorced, the city or town where that happened should have copies of your marriage records and divorce records.
Not only are they stored at the library but anyone who requests to see them, and have copies made, can do that. Some libraries charge a small fee to make the copies but it’s nominal. Also, it’s important that you use the library that is specified in your town as the keeper of records. If, for example, you ask for marriage records at the public library in Teaneck, NJ but you were married in Hackensack, NJ, Teaneck’s library won’t have your records, Hackensack’s library will.
2. Divorce Records Can Sometimes Be Sealed
In some situations, it’s possible that a person’s divorce records can be ‘sealed’ by the court, which means that nobody can access them for any reason. If you find that the divorce records you need have been sealed it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get a copy of them. If you must have them you’ll likely need the services of an attorney to get them, if you can get them at all.
3. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Can Help You Get Marriage and Divorce Records
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a set of federal government laws put in place to make all public records available to anyone who needs them for a legitimate purpose. If you are having trouble accessing marriage records or divorce records you should refer the person refusing them to the FOIA rules and remind them that you have the right to access your public records or, frankly, anyone else’s public records.
4. Each State has a Vital Records Office
Every state in the United States has its own vital records office where both marriage records and divorce records can be kept. Today most of them will give you access online to at least get the paperwork started and get a copy, although in some states you’ll have to go to the location of the vital records office to pick up your copy after it’s been printed.
5. Public Records Aggregation / Data Broker Sites Can Be Helpful
There are many public records aggregation websites online today that, for a nominal fee, will give you access to both marriage records and divorce records (and many other records to be sure). Some of these sites require that you sign-up and purchase a service or become a member before you can get started, some don’t.
It’s worth noting that some of these websites have a treasure trove of public records about millions of Americans, giving access to their records to anyone who signs up and pays the fee. That being said, you may want to visit some of them to opt-out of their website. Otherwise, they can legally give away your records and there’s not much you can do about it.
Again, it’s worth noting that all of these sites have the ability, and legal right, to give your personal records and data away. The only way to stop them from doing so is to opt-out of their platform, which can usually be done on the website itself. Just look for the ‘Opt-Out’ button or tab and remember that, if you really want your records to be safe from prying eyes, you’ll need to opt-out on all of the above websites.
6. Genealogy / Family History Service Websites Can Help you Find Older Marriage & Divorce Records
Today there are several family histories and genealogy websites that can search very far back in American history for public records, including marriage records and divorce records. If you’re searching for either one to find out about your family tree, for inheritance identification and other reasons, a genealogy or family history website might just be able to help.
These sites use your information to track down your ancestors and can often go back decades and/or centuries. There’s a cost to do so and it takes a little bit longer to get results but, if you need proof that someone was married to someone else or who got divorced from whom and when, they can be very helpful. Below is a list of the top genealogy and family history websites/service providers.
- The USGenWeb Project – http://www.usgenweb.org/ (This is considered to be the very first genealogy website in existence and was started in the late 1990s.)
- Ancestry – https://www.ancestry.com/
- FamilySearch – https://www.familysearch.org/en/
- AncestralFindings – https://ancestralfindings.com/
7. Many County Clerk’s Offices Have Marriage and Divorce Records
Like state and federal institutions that collect and keep public records, many of the state counties around the United States keep marriage records and divorce records on file. You would need to look in the clerk’s office of the exact county where you were married in order to get the records you need. Most county clerk’s offices don’t charge for the service but have a slight charge to print out/make a copy for you.
8. Your State’s Department of Health Keeps Public Records
Although they mostly keep health records it’s possible that your state’s department of health might have marriage records and divorce records in some, or many, cases. It would probably be best to contact them first before making the trip to make certain that they do indeed keep the records you need.
9. Google. It’s the World’s Biggest Database
Unless you’ve been living on the moon you know that Google has information about, well, almost everything. Googling your marriage records or divorce records on your browser of choice might just get you the results you’re looking for, but don’t hold your breath. While they have trillions of bits of information on-hand it’s unlikely that you’ll, say, find your exact marriage record and be able to simply print it on your home printer. But it’s certainly worth a try.
10. The Center For Disease Control (CDC) has a Public Records Search Page by State
Not sure where to start except for the State where you think the marriage or divorce was finalized? Then you should go to the Center for Disease Contol website and their National Center for Health Statistics page. They have all of the different United States and also our territories listed on an easy, clickable page that takes you directly to the individual state.
There, you can see where you need to go to get the marriage record or divorce records you want. You can also see how much it will cost to get them, the address of their respective location and links to pertinent websites. It’s one of the fastest ways to get the public records you need without having to surf and search until you’re blue in the face.
Finding public records today isn’t nearly as difficult as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Today there are many different organizations and websites that can help you do almost everything online, or at least point you in the right direction so you know where to start or who to speak with. All you need is the information we provided above and a pinch of good luck and you should be able to find both the marriage records or divorce records you seek.
We hope you enjoyed this article and that it answered your questions and provided valuable information. If you have more questions or would like to leave a comment please do so in the space provided, and best of luck in your records search.
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Ron is the lead writer for USATrace.com. Ron has over 40 years of experience both as a private investigator and attorney. He brings excellent value to the site with his insite on public records and the changing demographics of people search on the internet. You can contact Ron via firstname.lastname@example.org.