how do you acquire divorce records

Are Divorce Records Public In Washington State?

Goldberg JonesDivorce, Divorce Process, Featured Posts 1 Comment

A number of questions come up all the time in divorce. One we hear frequently is: Are divorce records available to the public in Washington?

The short answer is yes, yes they are.

Like many documents, divorce records like divorce decrees and divorce certificates are a matter of public record. 

What this means is that, if you follow the proper procedure, just about anyone can access them. With that in mind, there are a variety of different ways to track down and access divorce records.

How Do You Access Divorce Records?

In most situations, no matter what tools you use, you need specific information. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the names, dates of birth, and the state where the divorce took place. The more information, the easier time you’ll have narrowing down your search and ensuring you find the right divorce records.

Though it is possible to find divorce records for free, if you want official copies, you’ll probably have to pay at least a few dollars. These fees range from roughly $10 on up, depending on the service.

Through The Government

The best way to obtain divorce records is most likely to go through a county, state, or district government body. Not only do these have the benefit of being official documents, but they also have the best databases available.

After collecting as much information about the divorce records you’re looking for, contact the Washington State Department of Health. In the Evergreen State, this is the department that handles issuing certified copies of vital records for marriage and divorce, as well as births and deaths.

Once you find the specific divorce records you’re looking for, you have to fill out a request form and pay a fee. After submitting the proper paperwork to the Department of Health then you wait.

Through A Private Company

Another popular option for tracking down divorce records is through a private company. A variety of databases and businesses exist, and the biggest benefit is convenience.

Most of these operate online and have a shorter turnaround time. In many cases, you’ll have to pay a fee and sign up for a membership of some sort, even those services claiming to be free.

Tons of different companies ply this trade, so you have various options. The downside of this is that some of them look shady and less than legitimate. Before going this route, do your homework. Make sure your information stays safe and that you’ll actually get results in return for your investment.

Online Resources

Since divorce records are public in Washington, sometimes all it takes is a Google search to track down what you’re after.

This method also has the decided advantages of being quick, easy, and free. You can, after all, tackle this on your own computer, on your own time, and from the comfort of your own home.

However, you may also encounter roadblocks to an online search for divorce records.

    • First, what’s out there and available online tends to be rather limited. You may not be able to find what you want.
    • When and if you do track down the specific divorce records, what you land on may be ineffective or inaccurate.
    • At best, it likely won’t be official in any capacity. If you’re solely interested in informational purposes, this may be fine. But if you need something certified, you should probably explore other routes.

As with the other search options, the more details you have, the easier it will be to narrow your online investigation. The internet is a big place full of tons of information, so having the names, states, dates, and any other facts goes a long way to establishing search parameters. So will a working knowledge of search engine best practices.

Related Reading: So Your Ex Won’t Follow the Divorce Agreement…

Difference Between Types of Divorce Records

When searching for divorce records, you have multiple options for what to look for. You can order divorce decrees or divorce certificates through the Washington State Department of Health. Though similar in some regards, they also have substantial differences.

Divorce Decree

A divorce decree is the court’s final ruling on the dissolution of a marriage. It grants the divorce and lays out the basic information regarding the split.

This includes everything from the case number and date to the terms and responsibilities of each party.

Usually, several pages long, the divorce decree contains the specifics of the division of assets and debt. It also includes details on child custody, visitation, child support, and spousal support if those factors play a part.

Divorce Certificate

On the other hand, a divorce certificate is much simpler. Basically, it is exactly what it sounds like, a piece of paper that officially states your marriage is over.

A single-page document, it contains the basic information pertinent to the case, like the names of the divorcing parties and the date the split became official.

Related Reading: What You Should Know About Protecting Your Business During Divorce

Why Do You Need These Documents?

Now that you’ve handled acquiring divorce records, there’s the question of why. Why might you look for divorce records? What do you use these documents for?

There are a number of reasons you might lead you to track one of these down. Ideally, once the deed is done, you’ll hang onto them, but we all know how important items often get lost or misplaced.

Name Change

After divorce, people often want to distance themselves from their marriage and change their name. If you want to change your name on the title of a vehicle or your state-issued ID, you may need a divorce certificate.


It’s not uncommon for people to remarry after a divorce. A divorce certificate serves as proof that you are no longer legally married. The government may require this in order to obtain a new marriage license.

Ancestral Research

Online resources make it easier than ever before to trace your family tree. People use divorce records to research family histories, search for distant relations, or learn more about the lives of their ancestors.

Legal Matters

Divorce decrees are the kind of divorce records you generally want to hold onto and keep safe. But again, that doesn’t always happen. A divorce decree lays out the terms of your split in explicit detail. If you suspect your ex of violating them, this is the first place to check before pursuing a court case.

As we said, divorce records are public in Washington. It’s amazing sometimes what is and isn’t public, and these documents are certainly out there and available. The hows and whys of tracking them down vary, but if you’re thorough and determined, you can find most anything you’re after.

Related Reading: What’s the Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation?

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