Where are divorce records kept?

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Walker Family Law
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Where are divorce records kept?

For most people who have gone through a divorce it is an academic question: where are the records of the divorce kept?

It may of course be of interest to anyone investigating their family history, but it can also be crucial to anyone who wishes to remarry – before they can do so, they will need to provide the registrar with evidence of any previous divorce, i.e. the Decree Absolute.

Now, in a perfect world, anyone who divorces will keep a copy of the Decree Absolute, and they can produce that as evidence of the divorce. But it is not a perfect world. The divorce may have happened long ago, and the decree absolute may have been lost, or even thrown away.

In such circumstances it will be necessary to obtain a copy. But where are divorce records kept?

The answer is twofold:

The court that dealt with the divorce

The obvious place to start when looking for divorce records is of course the court that dealt with the divorce. They will have a file, with all of the details, won’t they?

Well, they should, at least for a time after the divorce.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service has a record and retention policy, agreed by the President of the Family Division. The policy states that the contents of divorce files should be retained by the court for 18 years following the date of the final order.

After that, the files are stripped and destroyed. However, several key pieces of paperwork are retained longer, one of which is the Decree Absolute, which is kept for an additional 82 years. The Decree Absolute should therefore be retained by the court for a total of 100 years – long enough for anyone wishing to remarry!

But the court is not the only place where a record should be kept.

The Central Index of Decrees Absolute

What if, for some reason, the court has not kept a record of the divorce? Or what if, as is often the case, the person seeking evidence of the divorce does not know which court dealt with it, so don’t know which court to ask?

Well, there is another place where divorce records are, or at least should be, held: the Central Index of Decrees Absolute, kept and controlled by the Central Family Court in London.

After a divorce is finalised the court that dealt with it should send details of the Decree Absolute to the Central Index, which is a record of all Decrees Absolute granted by courts in England and Wales since 1858.

Anyone is entitled to request the Central Family Court to search the Index for a Decree Absolute or final order. They will need to specify the period of years that they want searched, and will have to pay a fee. Once the search has been carried out, they will receive a certificate of the result of the search, and a copy of any Decree Absolute traced.

If all else fails…

What if, for some reason, neither the court nor the Central Index has a record of the divorce? What if the court accidentally destroyed its entire file, and failed to send details of the divorce to the Central Index? It has happened. What do you do then?

You will have to apply to the High Court for a declaration to rectify the situation. The High Court will want enquiries to be made, including of the other party to the marriage, assuming they can be located.

If, once all enquiries have been completed, the High Court is satisfied as to the date that the Decree Absolute was made it can make a declaration confirming the date that the marriage was dissolved, and require the Decree Absolute to be recorded on the Central Index.