Are Divorce Records Public in the District of Columbia?
D.C. divorce records are mostly public records. Members of the public can obtain information on divorces by contacting the record custodian. However, requesters will be unable to obtain copies of any record sealed by court order or any record containing sensitive information exempted by law. In addition, while residents can view general divorce information, access to certified copies of a divorce decree is typically restricted to only eligible persons such as the:
- Both spouses named in the records
- Children of the spouses named on the records
- Legal guardians or parents of the named parties on record
- Any authorized legal representatives of the divorced parties
Courts may decide to seal a divorce record for a variety of reasons. Some acceptable reasons for having a record sealed include:
- To prevent the spread of misinformation or false allegation
- To protect the identities of minors
- To protect parties who have been victims of domestic abuse or violence
- To protect private or proprietary business information
- To protect financial information such as account numbers or social security numbers
Divorce records are considered court records. They may, therefore, be searched on third-party public record websites. Divorce records can offer personal information on minors, finances, and sensitive criminal information like domestic abuse. Because of this, divorce records, certificates, and decree availability is usually much lower than other types of public records because of the personal nature of divorces. Simply put, divorce records are significantly harder to obtain and search for than other types of public records.
District of Columbia Divorce Records
A divorce record provides proof that two parties were legally separated after a common-law marriage or formal union. It typically contains the final decisions from the divorce court as well as the agreed terms for separation. Divorce may be used for different legal processes or proceedings, some of which include:
- Filing for immigration
- Filing for a marriage license when remarrying
- Settling claims over spousal support or child custody
- Settling contested issues of property distribution
A divorce marks the end of a traditional or common law marriage in D.C. Unlike some U.S. states, D.C. laws do not require that both spouses reside in the state. Instead, to file for divorce, one party simply needs to have been resident in D.C. for at least six months before the filing date. Couples who file for divorce in D.C can do so on two grounds:
- Separation without cohabitation for at least one year
- Separation without cohabitation for at least six months
A separation without cohabitation for the year is required in cases where one party does not agree to the divorce, while the alternative is used in cases where the couples both agree on the separation. For either option, partners may also request property distribution and marital support during a divorce. Partners may also request child support or child custody. Records of divorces issued in DC courts are maintained by the record custodian and made available along with similar DC public records.
District of Columbia Divorce Decrees
A D.C. divorce decree is a court-issued document that lists key decisions regarding the dissolution of a marriage. It marks the judgment and final rulings of the court at the conclusion of divorce proceedings. A D.C divorce decree is an important part of any marriage dissolution as it typically contains post-marital agreements and resolutions, some of which include:
- Alimony: Decrees may state how much one party pays to another party and for how long. Alimonies are typically temporary.
- Property division: In the absence of a prenuptial agreement, divorce decrees may contain details on how property should be divided after marriage.
- Child custody decision: Divorce decrees may either award joint custody to both parents or sole custody to one parent.
- Resolution on child support: Divorce decrees may stipulate how much each party is supposed to pay to support the other party’s child support.
Note: In cases where a divorce without a trial, a divorce decree will contain the terms of settlement agreed by both parties.
How Do I Obtain a District of Columbia Divorce Decree?
The Superior Court of the District of Columbia maintains records of divorce decrees granted to couples from September 16, 1956. Interested parties can obtain copies by submitting a request to the Clerk of Court located at:
500 Indiana Avenue, N.W., Room 4485
Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: (202) 879-4840
The courthouse charges $20 for the first copy of a decree and $10 for each subsequent copy. Certified copies of a decree may only be provided to eligible persons, namely the parties involved in the divorce and an authorized legal representative. Record custodians may also require that record seekers provide a valid government-issued I.D before processing the search. Other details that may be required for a record search include:
- The date and location of the divorce
- Names of both parties on the divorce record
- Relationship of the requester to the parties named in the record
Depending on when the case was filed, divorce records may be available online using the court’s eAccess platform. Users can conduct searches by typing a known case number and date. Government public record search portals and third-party public record websites may also provide court records search tools, which can come in useful for locating divorce records. However, record availability usually varies widely. Some records may simply be unavailable through either source. Records of D.C. divorces granted before September 16, 1956, can be obtained by contacting the Clerk of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington, DC 20001).
District of Columbia Divorce Certificates
A divorce certificate is a state-issued record-keeping document that confirms a person has gone through a legal divorce. It provides basic details about the divorce, such as:
- The court case number
- The place and date when the divorce was filed
- The (former) name of the parties involved in the divorce
- Unlike a divorce decree, a divorce certificate may only be used for limited applications, such as:
- Obtaining a travel visa
- Showing proof that a person is single
- Showing proof that a divorce occurred without added specifics
- Getting permission for a name change
How to Find Out if Someone is Divorced in the District of Columbia
Anyone searching for their divorce records in the District of Columbia should contact a circuit court clerk, the official record keeper for a District of Columbia Family and Circuit Court. However, this must be the clerk's office serving the court where the requester filed their divorce papers.
Typically, subjects of records must go to an appropriate circuit clerk's office with valid identification (for example, a driver's license) to obtain their divorce documents. Information required to look up a record may include a divorcee's name and date of divorce.
The District of Columbia circuit court clerks do not process divorce record requests by phone. Furthermore, the clerks will allow a registrant to look up their divorce case records or order certified copies of their divorce decree. The clerks do not issue District of Columbia divorce certificates.
Does the District of Columbia Recognize Common-Law Marriage
The District of Columbia recognizes the validity of common law marriages created within the capital. If a couple uses terms such as husband and wife or spouse, presents themselves in public as married, has exchanged wedding bands, and commemorates the date they exchanged promises, then they may have a common-law marriage in the District of Columbia. Although the law in the District of Columbia does not specify any duration as the minimum to validate a common-law marriage in the state, it requires that the couple identify the exact moment of marriage consent between them. Once recognized, a common-law marriage can only be terminated through a divorce. However, the court will ensure a fair and equitable sharing of properties and award alimony, provided your financial situation requires it.
How to Get a Divorce in the District of Columbia
Spouses must meet residency requirements to get a divorce in the District of Columbia. An individual or their spouse must have resided in the District of Columbia for at least one year before petitioning the court, or the filing party (the petitioner) must now live in the District of Columbia after being wed in the state.
The District of Columbia allows both no-fault and fault-based divorce. The state's no-fault divorce grounds are irreconcilable differences and voluntary separation for at least one year. The fault-related divorce grounds include:
- Cruel or inhuman treatment
- Felony conviction
- Permanent and incurable insanity
- Habitual drunkenness or drug addiction
- Abuse or neglect of a child
How to Get Divorce Papers in the District of Columbia
Divorce papers in the District of Columbia are the forms and documents filed in court to begin divorce proceedings in the state. Individuals who want to get a divorce in the District of Columbia can obtain these forms from a circuit clerk's office. All divorce forms are organized in a packet available for purchase at any clerk's office.
The District of Columbia circuit courts recommend acquiring a divorce packet in lieu of purchasing forms separately. This allows spouses to gather all required forms and obtain instructions for completing, preparing, filing, and serving the divorce petition and other necessary documents.