When two consenting adults decide to enter a marriage and apply for a license or marriage certificate, they receive a document memorializing the union and the event is recorded in the county, city or other state agency in which they married.

In order to end the marriage, a divorce action must be brought in a Court where the couple resides and when a judge grants the divorce by Court decree, that event is also recorded in the county, city or other state agency where the divorce occurred.

In the U.S., the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) collects data related to the number of marriages and divorces around the county. These stats are reflected in the center’s national vital reports each year. On the NCHS website, one can find the nation’s rates of marriage and divorce broken down by state.

The NCHS also records other related activities among the population including cohabitation and births. The purpose of the NCHS is to help identify trends in the U.S. to assist law makers in updating policies that affect family life.

Where Can I Get Marriage or Divorce Records?

Both marriage and divorce records are a matter of public record. Thus, there is no secret in having a legally recognized marriage or divorce. Because the recording of marriages and divorces are done on a local government level either by counties and cities or by states, searching for such records usually require looking in the particular state or locality in which the event occurred. Most states have websites that are accessible by the public to search for records and many records are accessible for free.

Another option is to contact the vital records office of the particular area in which the marriage or divorce took place. Many offices have either mail, email or in-person request options to obtain a copy of the record. However, if you need an official copy of a divorce decree or marriage certificate you may have to pay a fee for this service.

Companies either online or with a private investigator may also obtain these records, but expect to pay a fee for these services.

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How Do I Access Marriage or Divorce Records?

Regardless of the method in which you search for these records, you will need some basic information about the parties to the marriage or divorce. Depending on the office or method, such information may include the following:

  • Full legal names of the spouse at the time the record was created.
  • Birthdates of both spouses.
  • Location of the divorce or marriage.
  • The date of the marriage or divorce.
  • Many counties and states require you to list your relationship with the parties if you are not one of the spouses.
  • Many counties and states require a legitimate purpose to access the records if you are not one of the spouses.

When Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are one of the spouses, the easiest way to maintain this record is to always keep the original record you received at the time of the event such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree. However, if you lose your copy, it is usually simple to obtain another as one of the spouses by following the instructions with your local vital statistics office.

If you are not one of the spouses, many counties and states require you to show a legal purpose to access specific information regarding the marriage or divorce. In many locations, the details of a divorce decree may be sealed to protect the parties privacy so you may only be able to access the existence of the divorce rather the specific findings of what happened in the divorce decree such as property divisions or custody orders.

If you have had difficulty accessing these records but have the right to access them, then a government lawyer can assist you in obtaining such records in your state.