Are New Jersey Divorce Records Public?
Going through a divorce can be challenging for many reasons, such as finding a new normal in your family life, adjusting to a new financial situation, and figuring out what life holds for you in the future. The idea of having your personal, private information made public during the process can add unwanted stress during this time.
At Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski, we are here to provide compassionate and practical support during your divorce. We want to help you take some of the stress out of the process and look toward your future with confidence.
A question we commonly get asked is: are divorce records public? In principle, yes. The Open Public Records Act made records associated with divorce available to the public in 2002. But there’s a great deal of nuance involved.
Divorce records in New Jersey
Divorce is officially known as the dissolution of marriage. It is the state’s job to regulate both the formation and dissolution of a marriage. And like all other areas that the state regulates, it maintains records of all divorces that occur within its jurisdiction.
These records—the divorce judgment (the signed proof of divorce) and divorce decree (the details of the settlement agreement)—are maintained by the New Jersey Courts family division and are accessible by the judge and other state officials handling your court case. You or your divorce attorney may also need access to these records for financial or bureaucratic reasons.
Not all records are the same, though. New Jersey divorce records include electronic and physical copies of all documents that were filed with the court and descriptions of all proceedings.
There are two types of divorce records that you may encounter:
- Judgments of divorce issued by the court
- Divorce decrees or agreements (also called settlements)
Judgement of divorce
A judgment of divorce is a document that acts as “proof” of your divorce and is stamped with the Seal of the Superior Court. It generally contains identification from the court verifying it as “certified.” You must present this document at the Social Security office if you want to change your name after a divorce.
A divorce judgment contains basic information about your divorce, such as:
- County of venue
- Docket number
- Date of the judgment of divorce
- Your name, including resumption of maiden name when applicable
- Your ex-spouse’s name
Because a divorce judgment contains less detail than a divorce agreement, it can be more easily obtainable by the general public.
Divorce agreements or decrees
Typically, a judge will create a divorce decree (or findings of fact after a trial) at the end of your case. This decree is a judicial order that dictates how assets will be distributed and what duties you are obligated to perform in the future (like paying child or spousal support).
If your case involved a trial, those records would also include full court transcriptions and all evidence presented. These records allow any interested party to determine the exact dates, times, and events of everything that happened during the divorce process.
If you use mediation to negotiate a divorce settlement without needing a trial, a judge will still produce a divorce decree. Typically, though, that decree will match the negotiated agreement.
After a divorce, you and your spouse are no longer financially or legally partnered. This change in legal designation matters to:
- Financial institutes that you have accounts with
- Your landlord
- Your employer
- The IRS
- State agencies like the DMV
However, you can’t just tell them that you have been divorced—you need to provide legal proof in the form of a divorce certificate issued by the state’s vital records office.
A divorce certificate is a rather simple record that identifies you, your ex-spouse, the date of your divorce, and where it occurred. This document otherwise contains no personal information, but rather, the information that anyone needs to prove that you were divorced.
Are New Jersey divorce records public?
Typically, unless there is an important reason for them to be held in secret, all court records are public. New Jersey divorce records are no exception to this rule. Unless you or another affected party requests that they be sealed, your divorce records will be available to anyone who makes a public records request of them.
Bear in mind that this doesn’t mean that any member of the public can simply walk into a family court of New Jersey and demand a copy of your divorce records. To see the details of your settlement, they would have to pay a fee and fill out an application with a valid reason.
If you think that your records should be private—whether in part or completely—consult with a knowledgeable NJ divorce lawyer for assistance. You may be able to petition the court for them to be sealed.
Typically, a judge is unlikely to make divorce records completely secret. However, information including “personal identifiers” like Social Security numbers and addresses can be redacted. Additionally, a judge may be willing to protect the identity of minor children or others who would be put at risk if their identity became public.
How to request court records
You can request court records on the New Jersey Courts website. The site provides complete information on how to make the request, how much the request will cost, how to pay for the records, how to receive the documents, and how long it may take to obtain them.
While this process may seem simple, the site is multiple pages long and requires you to follow different procedures depending on the specifics of your case and the information you have available. The simplest way to request court records will be to work with your attorney to ensure you’ve requested the information in the correct manner.
Consult with an attorney
Are New Jersey divorce records public? Typically, they are—but there are exceptions. And if you wish to pursue those exceptions, a family law attorney from Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski can help you request to have some or all of your divorce records sealed.
Contact our experienced and compassionate family law attorneys for guidance as you navigate the divorce process. For more information, schedule your consultation with our team today.