Are Divorce Records Public & Where Do I Find Them?

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 7th July 2024
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Divorce can be a tough experience, and understanding how to access divorce records might not be the first thing on your mind. However, knowing whether these records are public and how to find them can be quite useful, whether for personal reasons or legal matters.

In the UK, divorce records are public documents, but accessing them isn't as straightforward as you might think. This article will break down what you need to know about public access to divorce records and guide you on where and how to find them.

Whether you need your records, are helping a family member, or are simply curious about what information will be made public about your divorce, this article will make it all easier to understand.

Are divorce records public?

Divorce records in the UK are considered public records but access to them is limited to certain types of information to protect the privacy of those involved.

What information is public?

Only the final stage of the divorce, now called the final order, is public.

Information contained in a final order includes:

  • The names of both parties

  • The date of marriage

  • The place of marriage

  • Details of the court granting the divorce.

What information is private?

Sensitive details such as financial settlements, arrangements for children, and personal statements made during the divorce process are not publicly accessible.

Why are divorce records public?

Divorce records are made public in the UK to:

  • Make sure the judicial process is transparent;

  • Contribute to the development of case law;

  • Provide verifiable proof that a marriage has legally ended;

  • Help individuals trace their family history or conduct research into social patterns and demographics;

  • Make it easy for individuals to access their records.

What are my rights to privacy relating to divorce records?

While final orders are a matter of public record, many details of divorce proceedings are kept confidential to protect the privacy of those involved.

The Family Procedure Rules 2010 govern the conduct of family proceedings in the UK and include provisions to ensure that sensitive information is protected. For example, Rule 29.12 states that the court may order that certain documents not be open to public inspection.

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998 gives individuals the right to respect for their private and family life, which extends to privacy in divorce matters.

How to protect your privacy during a divorce

If you believe certain information should not be publicly accessible, you can request that the court redact these details from the public records.

Further, in some cases, you can request a private hearing, which means that details discussed in court will not be publicly accessible.

Can you find out if someone is divorced?

You can find out if someone is divorced by applying for a copy of the final order (formerly the decree absolute) or by searching the National Archives for older records.

How to get a copy of a final order or decree absolute

You can get copies of a decree absolute or final order through the government website.

How you apply depends on the information you have and when and how the divorce application was made.

For divorce applications made online after January 2019 or by post after April 2022, you should contact the Divorce Service Centre.

For applications made at any other time, you should contact the court that handled your divorce.

Alternatively, if you don't know which court to ask you can ask the Central Family Court to search for the decree absolute or final order using form D440.

You can also find records of divorces granted in England and Wales before 1937 through the National Archive.

How much does it cost to get a copy of a decree absolute or final order?

If you know the case number, it costs £11 to apply for a copy of a decree absolute or final order.

If you don't know the case number, it costs £45 to search a 10-year period.

Or, if you don't know which court to ask, it costs £65 for each 10-year period that's searched.

How long do solicitors keep divorce records?

Typically, solicitors have to keep client files for at least six years from the conclusion of the matter. This period is based on the Limitation Act 1980, which allows clients to bring a negligence claim against their solicitor within this timeframe.

Many law firms, however, keep divorce files for at least 15 years due to the long-term nature of divorce matters and potential future disputes or questions.

In cases where children are involved, solicitors may keep files for a longer period, sometimes up to the child reaching the age of 18 or even 21.

Solicitors must also comply with data protection laws, such as GDPR which governs the handling and storage of personal data.

Conclusion

In the UK, divorce records are public documents, though accessing them is not straightforward nor do these public records include sensitive information regarding settlements or child arrangements.

At Lawhive, we understand that going through a divorce can be challenging and you'll likely have lots of questions during the process.

Our network of divorce lawyers is on hand to guide you, ensuring your rights, interests, and privacy are protected.

Contact us for a free case evaluation today.

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