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Are my divorce files public?

Divorce | 1 Apr 2020 2

The simple answer is that only one document in your divorce files is available to the public: the Decree Absolute. The rest of the documents remain confidential between the parties, their representatives and the Court.

Is a divorce application public?

Within divorce proceedings, the most contested document potentially is the divorce application (divorce petition). This is the initial document that is lodged at Court to commence the divorce proceedings. 

The reason why one or both parties may be concerned about this entering the public domain is because of the level of private information it can detail. 

If, for example, the divorce is based on one party’s unreasonable behaviour or adultery, the divorce application will contain examples of this behaviour (there are typically 3 -5 specific examples in a petition) or alleged adultery (i.e. when this took place).  

Regardless of whether one party accepts these reasons or not, this is certainly not something you would want to be accessed by the public. It contains private details concerning the breakdown of the marriage and, quite rightly, should remain confidential.

The remainder of the documents issued within the divorce proceedings will simply refer to the alleged fact of one parties’ ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or ‘adultery’ and who that party is but will not give further details of this.

Is a Decree Absolute public? 

The Decree Absolute, the final order in the divorce proceedings which brings the marriage to an end legally, is the only publicly available document.  

This confirms the court details, names of both parties, the date and place they got married, the fact upon which the divorce application is based, the date of the Decree Nisi and the date of the Decree Absolute. 

Importantly, it doesn’t give any further details for the breakdown of the marriage, the specific examples of behaviour/ adultery or any arrangements for children or finances.

You can obtain a copy of a Decree Absolute online in the same way that you can obtain copies of birth certificates, death certificates etc. 

Ideally, you need to give specific details on the divorce to obtain this but even without this, you can ask the court to search their records over a ten-year period.

Get in touch

If you would like further advice on whether divorce files are public or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

My approach is to put my clients at ease from the outset and take time to discuss their objectives. I then offer clear and concise advice tailored to their needs. I have experience of a broad range of family law matters including divorce, cohabitation issues and domestic violence cases.

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Comments(2)

  1. Andrew says:

    Is this right?

    See MCR 7.20:

    (1) This rule applies where an application is made under rule 7.19.
    (2) If at the relevant time the case is an undefended case, the court must –
    (a) if satisfied that the applicant is entitled to –
    (i) in matrimonial proceedings, a decree nisi or a decree of judicial separation (as the case may be); or
    (ii) in civil partnership proceedings, a conditional order or a separation order (as the case may be),
    so certify and direct that the application be listed before a judge for the making of the decree or order at the next available date;

    . . .

    (8) Where a decree or order is made in accordance with a certificate under paragraph (2)(a), any person may, within 14 days after the making of the decree or order, inspect the certificate and the evidence filed under rule 7.19(4) and may obtain copies.
    (9) Paragraph (8) does not apply to a certificate which relates to –
    (a) a decree of nullity of marriage under section section 12(1)(g) of, or paragraph 11(1)(e) of Schedule 1 to, the 1973 Act;
    (aa) a decree of nullity of marriage under section 12A(3) of the 1973 Act in a case where section 12(1)(g) of the 1973 Act applies; or
    (b) an order for nullity of civil partnership under section 50(1)(d) of the 2004 Act, unless the court has given permission.

    In short: after a special procedure divorce has been pronounced the affidavit in support and the DJ’s certificate are open to public inspection for 14 days. It rarely happens except in the case of celebrity divorces and in any case the evidence does not usually provide anything salacious (in nullity cases, where it might, there is no right to inspect) but there it is; the process is not entirely private. I suppose it reflects the reality that before the special procedure the press and public could be present when divorces were heard, but in nullity cases evidence of sexual incapacity’s given in closed court.

  2. JamesB says:

    It just shows who the petitioner was and who the respondent was and the start and end dates of the marriage. Not the ‘fact’, which is usually a lie or fake excuse, which is probably why it isn’t shown.

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