Are Texas Divorces Public Record?
During a divorce, extensive details of a couple’s lives and sensitive information are shared with the court. Understandably, some individuals are concerned about how publicly available their records are after their divorce.
Divorce records in Texas are public records and are usually accessible as such unless sealed through a court order. Records, including divorce decrees and case records, are mostly maintained by the district clerk or county clerk, and some records are accessible through third-party websites.
Additionally, individuals who have been through a divorce may need to request various records from the process in the future. Although publicly available, it can be more challenging to locate divorce records than other public records in Texas.
Skillern Firm can help you to understand what divorce records you may need for your situation and how to access them or support you in petitioning the court to seal a public divorce record. For advice on any divorce record-related matters, schedule an appointment with Skillern Firm by calling our team at 936-213-8479.
Types of Divorce Records
Texas divorce records contain varying amounts of information depending on the record type. The three main types of divorce records are divorce decrees, divorce pleadings, and divorce motions and orders. The state maintains different regulations around accessibility for individual record types.
A divorce record includes all the court filings from a divorce case. This is essentially the case record of a divorce and contains most of the divorce details, including sensitive information on motions filed, details of minors involved in the case, and details of assets. If an individual is concerned about their divorce documents being public, the divorce case record can be the greatest concern due to the level of detail it contains about a case.
The divorce decree is the document that a Judge signs to finalize a divorce and the terms the former spouses must follow. This includes the final judgment on arrangements for support payments between spouses, how marital assets should be split following the divorce, and how marital debt will be divided. To amend a divorce decree, a party will need to request a copy of the document before filing a motion to modify it.
Divorce pleadings are the legal documents that initiate a divorce, including the Original Petition for Divorce. Information provided in divorce pleadings can include identification of assets, including real property, insurance policies, and shared bank accounts, settlement agreements, and the details of parties involved in the divorce, including potential witnesses.
Where Are Divorce Documents Stored?
Divorce records are maintained by the district clerk’s office in the county of filing. So, if you filed for divorce in Harris County, your divorce records will be stored in the Office of Harris County District Clerk. Court records are managed and maintained by the county rather than the state.
Who Can Access Divorce Records?
Although divorce documents are public records, an individual must still file a request to access the detailed documentation associated with a divorce. When requesting access, parties are required to disclose their relationship to the individual concerned in the proceedings. Proving your relationship with the individual in question is essential, as the state may not grant access to some documents to the general public.
For example, a divorce record, the case record from divorce proceedings, is generally considered public. As such, third parties may be able to locate and access a divorce case record. However, it is less likely that an unrelated third party is able to access a divorce decree. Usually, the state will only permit parties involved in the divorce and their attorneys to access a divorce decree. Similarly, a divorce certificate is typically only accessible to both spouses and the lawyers who represented them in the divorce.
How To Access a Divorce Record
To obtain documents pertaining to a divorce case or marriage, an individual can contact the county clerk or district clerk’s office in which they got divorced or the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (TDHHS). Parties are only able to request divorce indexes and divorce verification letters from TDHSS. Often individuals can apply for a divorce verification letter online from the TDHSS. Verification letters are not legal substitutes for a Texas divorce decree and may not be appropriate for every use.
To apply for a divorce verification letter online, you will need the following information:
- The location and date of the divorce
- The full name of an individual or individuals involved in the divorce
- City or county where divorce was granted.
- The age of the spouses at the time of marriage.
An individual should also expect to be required to prove their identity to access a record and pay any necessary fees.
Third-party sites and government public record search portals offer search tools that allow people to find divorce records, but the availability of these records varies. Because of the sensitive information contained in these records, divorce records are often difficult to obtain through these search portals. Some records are only accessible to the parties involved in the divorce and legal professionals.
Reasons You Could Need to Access Your Divorce Records
A common reason that individuals request their divorce records is to prove they are divorced to allow them to remarry. Other reasons parties may require their divorce documents include proving your marriage status to government agencies to obtain support, modifying child custody, changing the name on the deeds of your house, and changing the name on your bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc.
If you just need to prove that you are divorced, or you would prefer a document containing as little information as possible about your divorce, a divorce verification letter may be the best option. This can help you avoid sharing more detailed documents on your divorce that contain information you would prefer to stay private.
Modifying An Order
It is difficult to modify a divorce decree in Texas once it has been finalized. However, modifications may be made to child custody agreements under certain circumstances. If one or both spouses have had a substantial change in their circumstances, such as a relocation or change in employment, they could apply for a modification in the custody agreement.
Parties will need to request their divorce records if they are planning to file a motion to modify any of the terms agreed upon during their initial divorce process. Divorce decrees especially are required when looking to modify child custody, or spousal support arrangements.
Following a divorce, individuals may want their employer to update their records to reflect the fact that they are divorced and if their name has changed. An employer may request evidence of a divorce to make these changes. Often a divorce verification letter will suffice for proving your divorce to an employer without disclosing further personal information from the proceedings.
Changing Your Name
The desire to change your name after a divorce is common. Typically, individuals, particularly women, seek to legally change their name, often back to their maiden name, for a fresh start after a divorce. In Texas, women can revert their surname to their maiden name during the divorce process. This change of name will be reflected on the final divorce decree.
When applying for a new driver’s license or social security card, you will need to provide evidence of your name change. This can be done by providing your divorce decree with your maiden name.
Can I Seal My Public Divorce Record?
The State of Texas maintains an open records rule concerning divorce records. However, it is possible to petition the court to seal your records, provided that this won’t affect public health or safety. You can choose whether to seal a whole record or just focus on the sensitive information contained in the documents.
Options available to individuals looking to seal their divorce records in Texas include the following:
- Highlight a document as containing sensitive data, such as personal addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth
- Include a confidentiality clause in the divorce agreement
- Hide your identity from the public divorce documents to ensure they can’t be related to you
- Seal an entire record from public access
- Apply for a court protective order on the grounds that the documents contain details of a sensitive nature or sensitive criminal information
Are Texas Divorces Public Record? Speak to Skillern Firm Today
Although there may be specific circumstances in your future where you will need to access your records after a divorce, knowing that they are public records can be concerning. If you are looking to find divorce records or seal your previous public divorce records, Skillern Firm can help.
With the wide range of divorce records and methods of verification available, it can be confusing to know exactly what you need. Skillern Firm’s divorce attorneys can help you understand what type of record you need and the process and requirements to access it.
If you are considering sealing your divorce record from public view, you will need to present a compelling case to the court for an exemption to the open record rule. A Skillern Firm lawyer can help you provide a strong argument to the court that your record should be sealed and that this will not have an adverse effect on public safety.
For any concerns and questions you have about divorce records in Texas, contact Skillern Firm today at 936-213-8479.