Are Divorce Records Public in Washington State?

July 1, 2022

When you’ve been through a divorce, you want to put it behind you and move forward. Sometimes, though, you need to provide proof of your divorce. When that happens, you need to know how to access those records. Let’s look at divorce records, why they are important, why you might need a copy, and how you obtain that copy in Washington State.

Divorce records are court records. Therefore, unless they have been specifically sealed, they are part of the public record and can be searched for on third-party public record websites. However, divorce records, certificates, and decrees are more challenging to obtain than other public records because they often contain sensitive personal information, including information regarding minors.

What Are Divorce Records?

In Washington, there are three kinds of divorce records available. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but as it turns out, each kind of record has a different amount of information. The three kinds of documents are the divorce certificate, the divorce decree, and actual divorce records. Here’s a look at each of the three.

Divorce Certificates

A divorce certificate is the most straightforward kind of divorce record. It’s a statement that there was a divorce, and it has the names of the divorced parties as well as when and where the divorce happened. This may be the only record you need if you change your name or get remarried. Divorce certificates are public records in Washington that can be searched for and viewed by the public.

Divorce Decrees

A divorce decree is more detailed than a simple divorce certificate. These documents include the names of the people who got divorced, the date and location of the divorce, information about the final judgments, a case number, and the judge’s signature. The decisions listed in a decree can include orders for child custody and support, alimony payments, and division of property.

Divorce Records

A divorce record is the most detailed of the three types of divorce statements available in Washington. These documents include all the information in both a certificate and a decree, as well as every file, report, and transcript presented during the case. These documents can be used to challenge any agreement that was made as part of the divorce. The public can view these because they are a matter of family court records, but only the people who got divorced or their attorneys can obtain certified copies of them.

 

The Purpose of Divorce Records

Some people think a divorce decree is a piece of paper, but it’s far more than that. There is purpose in that piece (or likely those pieces) of paper. Divorce papers are the concluding piece to your divorce puzzle. They provide legal proof that your divorce is final and your marriage has legally ended.

Believe it or not, there are times when people think they are divorced, and they actually aren’t. This can happen if the divorce was uncontested and the respondent never filed their response to the divorce. It can especially happen if everything was ironed out between the parties before filing papers. This is why it’s best to ensure your divorce has been legalized and the court has issued a divorce decree.

Are Divorce Records in Washington Public Record?

Washington’s divorce records are considered public records unless a judge has had them sealed. Anyone can order copies of decrees and certificates. When you request these documents through the Washington Department of Health, you are often not required to provide a valid id. The records can be viewed online, in person, or by mail.

According to the General Rule  GR31 in the Washington Start Court guidelines, courts are required to help you access your current court records. This rule also makes exceptions for certain records. Some records may not be accessible because of personal privacy rights.

Reasons You Might Need Divorce Records in Bellevue, Washington

The primary reason you might need an appropriate copy of your divorce decree is that you have decided to remarry. While this may seem like a far-off circumstance, you never know what might happen, and you might meet the person of your dreams tomorrow. Many places require copies of a divorce decree before issuing a new marriage license. This has a two-fold purpose: 1. It ensures the divorce was legal, and 2. It confirms you waited the designated legal amount of time before entering into another marriage.

Another reason you might need a copy of a divorce decree is because you want to apply for a legal name change. Additionally, applying for landed immigration status may require proof of marital status. You often need a marriage certificate or a divorce decree to begin the application process.

Do You Need A Certified Copy?

Before you request a copy of your divorce decree, you need to know if you need a certified copy or not. A certified copy of a divorce certificate has a raised seal in addition to the signature of the proper authority. Certified copies will be printed on security paper. Requesting a certified copy of your papers could require a longer waiting time.

Uncertified copies of divorce certificates are simply photocopies of the original document that has been filed with the court. These copies will be on plain white paper. There will be no raised seal on an uncertified copy of your divorce papers.

Various situations may require you to have access to divorce papers. For this reason, it’s best to retain a copy of your own in a safe place. If you have difficulty getting copies of your divorce records on your own, talk to your Bellevue Family Law Attorney for assistance.

Obtaining Washington Family Court Records

For a member of the general public to access a divorce record in Washington, you must:

  • Find out when the divorce was finalized—before or after 1968.
  • Before 1968, you must contact the Superior Court Clerk’s Office in the county where the divorce was finalized.
  • Follow instructions on the superior court website for accessing the records. Realize that there will likely be a fee and that the fees depend on which county the divorce was finalized. Each county determines its own fees.
  • If the divorce was finalized after 1968, you must search the Washington Department of Health database.
  • You must complete a request form before accessing divorce records through the WDH.

Government and third-party search portals may provide tools that help find divorce records, but the record’s availability varies due to the sensitive nature of the contents. Sometimes, you won’t be able to find the record through an online search, even a search of the portals provided by the state for the search of state public records. You may still be required to submit a mail-in or in-person request because the records contain financial information, identifying information of minors, and occasionally incriminating criminal information regarding abuse. Fees for obtaining divorce records vary depending on your method of requesting the records.

Requesting Divorce Records by Mail in Washington

When you request a divorce record, you just submit a request form for each document along with the necessary fees and identification required. If the divorce was filed after 1968, you should make the request to the Center for Health Statistics, Department of Health in Olympia, Washington. However, if the divorce was filed before 1968, you request the records from the clerk of the court in the county where the divorce was finalized. Expect 6-8 weeks of waiting for your records if you choose this option.

Requesting Divorce Records In-Person in Washington

Suppose you choose to make an in-person request for divorce records. In that case, you should visit the Customer Service Counter in the Center for Health Statistics, Department of Health office in Tumwater, Washington. The office typically opens at 8:30 and closes at 4:30, but it is recommended that you arrive and make your request before 4:00 pm to get same-day service.

Requesting Divorce Records Online

In Washington, you can search for and order divorce records online through a case records page they provide. To place the order, you must know the names of the parties involved in the divorce proceeding and the case number. The Washington Courts also provide alternative search portals, but those portals are often third-party websites, meaning the records may not be available.

Cost of Ordering Divorce Records in Washington

If you want certified copies of divorce records, your fee will vary depending on the method you use to order them. If you make your request in person, you can pay your fees with cash, checks, money orders, VISA, or MasterCard. If you make your request by mail, you will need to send a check or money order made out to the Department of Health. Should you place an order by phone, you should have your VISA or MasterCard ready, and you should be prepared to pay an additional convenience fee.

Can You Keep Your Divorce Records Private?

If you are concerned about your divorce records being public, you might consider creating a marital settlement agreement. Often, a judge will sign these settlement agreements, but they won’t include them in the public divorce records. The divorce decree simply references the settlement agreement and orders both parties to follow the settlement terms. An alternative to this option is to request the sensitive information in your decree—financial statements, health care records, the children’s information–to be sealed. Your attorney can help you make this request.

Final Thoughts

Divorce records are typically a part of the public record because they fall under the jurisdiction of the Family Law Court. However, these records are harder to obtain than other public records such as marriage, birth, or death certificates. If you need your records to be sealed for some reason, ask your Washington attorney to help you make the request to the judge.

Related Content: The Divorce Process In Bellevue, WA

 

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