How to Find a Divorce Record in Massachusetts
Divorce records, or dissolution records, can be some of the hardest records to obtain. A divorce can be defined as a legal reversal or annulment of marriage. To obtain a no-fault divorce in Massachusetts the parties must be separated for 18 month and residents of the state for one year. A fault divorce does not require someone to be a citizen for a certain amount of time. To access these records, they come in three different forms and are utilized for distinct actions.
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 record, certificate, 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.
What are Massachusetts Divorce Certificates
A divorce certificate is primarily requested by one of the parties that got a divorce. It serves as a document of proof that the dissolution of marriage happened and completed. The main uses for this type of certificate if to file for a name change, or to request a new marriage certificate. These records are always available to view by the two divorced parties, along with their attorney’s and the judge that presided over their case. Some states, however, do provide access to these documents with a valid reason.
What are Massachusetts Divorce Decrees
Divorce decrees contain a bit more information than divorce certificates. Not only do they state when and where a divorce happened, they also list the rights and responsibilities of both parties after the divorce is finalized. Some of these can include issuance of property, scheduling, and payments such as alimony or child support. If children are involved, this document will outline child custody provisions. A divorce decree is given a case number and contains a signature from the judge.
What are Massachusetts Divorce Records
Divorce records contain all the information included in divorce certificates and divorce decrees, plus all of the documents, transcripts, or materials that we generated as a result of the divorce proceedings. Therefore, they are the largest document of the three and are considered the case file for the divorce. Both parties should be advised by their attorneys to keep these documents in case something comes up, so it is not necessary to go through the process of reacquiring them. These records are meant for each party in case they will desire to alter or challenge any of the information and judgments on it. Certified copies can only be obtained by the two parties who got the divorce, as well as their legal counsel.
Are Massachusetts Divorce Records Public Records?
The Massachusetts Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), established in 1967, insures the public’s right to access resources from any government agency if requested, unless the information contained within those files may put someone in danger or violate someone’s personal rights. Examples of case information that may be deemed confidential include:
- personal information of a minor
- personal information of victims of abuse or assault
- Social security information or financial details of one of the parties
- Property details
- Mental health, illness, or evaluations pertaining to one of the parties involved
It is impossible to acquire a full record including the above information unless the requesting part has a court order and justification to access the information. This request must always be made with the records custodian. Massachusetts divorce records are held and maintained in the probate and family court in the county where the divorce took place.
How to Obtain Massachusetts Family Court Records
- The requesting party must find the docket number of the divorce case which they wish to access record from. If the docket number is unknown, simply contact the Probate and Family Court where the divorce took place and ask for the case docket number.
- Once the docket number is acquired, fill out a request form.
- After completely filling out a request form with all available information, make sure to attach the correct fee for a records request. This fee varies depending on how many copies the requesting party is attempting to obtain and what kind of divorce record is being requested. The three main options for Massachusetts divorce record are:
- Certificate of divorce absolute
- Certified copy of a judgment of divorce nisi first page
- Certified copy of a judgment of divorce nisi additional pages
- All payments should be made in the form of a check or money order, made out to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- Either mail-in the request form and payment to the Probate and Family Court where the divorce was finalized, or visit the court and hand in these items in-person. It is possible to find these records online, but because divorce records are maintained as one of the most difficult records to access and often have restrictions, it may be simpler to inquire in-person or through the mail.
Third party organizations also exist that provide divorce records. Because these organizations are not government operated or funded, they are not privy to government oversight. Record availability may differ from official government sites and sources.
What Information is Needed?
Along with a request form, requesting parties need to include:
- Docket number
- Names of both parties
- County that the divorce happened in
- Photocopy of a valid form of government-issued identification
- Check or money order
Government public record search portals and third party public record websites both may provide court records search tools, which can help find divorce records, though record availability usually varies widely. Divorce records in particular may simply not be available through either source. Many jurisdictions may require additional or different information when inquiring about certain records. This is often due to the status of a case or confidentiality pertaining to some aspect of it.
In-Person Requests for Massachusetts Divorce Records
There are public terminals available in the courts that are self-serve and are very helpful for obtaining documents that are public and have no protections or redactions. However, if the sought after document does have restrictions, it may be necessary to schedule an appointment with the record custodian in the family and probate court that is holding the record. This request will be filled out and conducted by the staff, and because of that, there will be fees applied to cover the cost of searching for copying these records.
Mail Requests for Massachusetts Divorce Records
Rather than appearing to the court in person, it is also possible for an inquiring party to request a divorce record through the mail. There are two options when requesting a divorce record by mail: either fill out a full request form, or prepare a written statement with all necessary information. This information includes but is not limited to the full name of both parties involved, the docket number of the divorce case, the case number, and the date and location that the divorce was finalized. It is also necessary to detail which type of divorce document you are petitioning for. Within this request, make sure to include all fees associated with the document being requested, along with a copy of valid government identification, and a self-addressed envelope. To figure out whether to fill out a request form or prepare a written request, contact the court custodian.
What is the cost of a Massachusetts Divorce Certificate?
Fees for Massachusetts divorce records vary depending on which kind of document is being requested.
- An absolute certificate copy of divorce is $20 each
- Certified copy of divorce judgment $20 first page, $1 per page
- Certified copy of divorce judgment $1 per page