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What are Pennsylvania Divorce Records?

Divorce refers to a legal separation of two persons involved in a union that is recognized by the state. There are a series of legal processes and events that lead up to the final court pronouncement. These processes and activities are chronicled in written or another form to make up a divorce record. As of 2018, the divorce rate in Pennsylvania stood at 6.5 out of 1000 women aged 15 and above.

Divorce applies to a valid marriage in the state. If the marriage is not valid, an annulment is what is processed to dissolve the union. There are several grounds on which the judicial system grants divorce in Pennsylvania. These reasons can be classified as

  • irreconcilable differences,
  • psychological or a mental breakdown,
  • an injury to the victim.

There are two main types of divorce in Pennsylvania. The first is the no-fault divorce which is granted without any evidence of wrongdoing from either party. A no-fault divorce could be mutual or non-mutual. The other is the fault divorce, in which case, evidence of wrongdoing is presented as the basis for filing for divorce.

Divorce is said to be final when the presiding Judge of the Court of Common Pleas signs the divorce decree. The prothonotary receives all documents and certifications of a divorce case and files them for record purposes. It takes a minimum of 90 days to process a divorce. This duration is from the time of filing the case in court to the date the divorce is granted.

A divorce process could be straightforward or complicated, depending on the nature of the adjacent matters associated with the case. Crime involvement and health issues are some of the accompanying issues that may delay a divorce process. Furthermore, there are usually fees involved in the divorce process. In some cases, the complainant may file for a forma pauperis, which is a petition to be granted a divorce without fees.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

Are Divorce Records Public in Pennsylvania?

Divorce is a legal process undertaken by the Judicial system of the state. Therefore, divorce records, like any other court records, are public records accessible by interested members of the public. This is following the Public Access Policy of the state. The prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas is the primary custodian of divorce records. Interested persons can visit the prothonotary’s office of the Court of Common Pleas, where the divorce was granted to request a divorce record.

According to the Pennsylvania State library, notices of divorce actions are published regularly in the local newspapers in counties. Exceptions to this rule are records that are sealed from public access.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What are the types of Divorce Records available in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania Divorce Records are made up of a divorce decree, a divorce certificate, and associated documents generated during the process. A certified copy of a divorce record is printed on a special paper. It bears a raised seal that validates it as an exact copy of the original. Plain copies, on the other hand, are printed on white paper with no legal seal. Certified copies are used in business matters that have legal implications. As such, they are issued only to the involved parties and persons authorized either by an involved party or by court order. Plain copies are available to non-involved parties, but because they do not bear a seal, its use is limited to informational purposes only. They are also referred to as genealogical copies.

A divorce decree is a document issued by the court, which gives a comprehensive summary of the dissolution of a marriage. This court document states that the divorce has been granted. It also says the court’s decision on spousal support or alimony, division of assets and liabilities, child support, child custody, and every other issue as it relates to each party. Furthermore, it states restraining orders and the penalties for defying them. The details of a divorce decree are legally binding on each divorced party, and failure to comply may trigger court action. Access to copies of a divorce decree is restricted to involved parties and persons authorized by law.

A divorce certificate, on the other hand, is a concise one-page document that declares an individual as divorced. It provides the names of the divorced parties, the date of the divorce, and the county courthouse where the divorce was granted. As is the case with divorce decrees, certified copies of a divorce certificate are restricted to the persons named in the document, and legally authorized individuals. Plain copies may be useful for genealogical purposes only.

How Do I Get Divorce Records in Pennsylvania?

The state of Pennsylvania runs a unified court system. This system provides the residents of the state access to case records through an electronic database, for free. The information in this database is regulated by the Electronic Case Record Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania and includes divorce case records. Note, sealed records are not available on the portal.

If a member of the public desires to inspect or copy records, he or she must submit a written request to the office of the prothonotary. A written request must contain a clear description of the requested record, such as case number, the full names of the involved parties, and the date of the divorce. Each page of the record is copied at 25 cents, while the fees for certified copies vary by county. A county directory of the contact details of prothonotaries in each county is available at the state judicial website.

Occasionally, a member of the public may be denied access to a divorce record. This denial could be a result of the following reasons:

  • The record is voluminous, and the processing may impede orderly workflow
  • Case information is filed under closed cases and has been moved to an off-site storage facility.
  • The file is in use by a judge or court staff.

While divorce and marriage records may be searched through government sources and organizations, the availability of these documents cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these entities are not government-sponsored; therefore, record availability may vary further. Also note that marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information the records contain, and are often sealed. Hence, bearing in mind that these factors determine the availability of any marriage or divorce record.

Who Can Obtain Divorce Records in Pennsylvania?

Divorce records in Pennsylvania are open to access upon request by any member of the public. This access applies to informational copies. Legal or certified copies are issued only to persons named in the record and their legal representatives. These persons may be their attorneys of persons granted access by court order.

Are Pennsylvania Divorce Records available online?

Electronic information about divorce cases is maintained centrally by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. Also, a mobile app designated PAeDocket has been recently launched for use on android and IOS devices. The application provides access to dockets of cases in the state. These dockets contain the following information about the involved party:

  • Name of the party and the case type
  • Date of case filing
  • Address of the party
  • Names and addresses the attorneys
  • Docket number and information entries
  • Court order and judgment

How Do I Seal My Divorce Records in Pennsylvania?

A divorce record, like any other record, may be sealed by court order in Pennsylvania. Records may also be sealed in part or its entirety. By default, all sensitive information, such as details of financial accounts involved minors, victims of abuse, driver’s license numbers, and state identification numbers, are kept from public access. This is made possible by the parties after their attorneys have completed a separate form for confidential information.

There are reasons to seal an entire divorce record. Protection of privacy of persons involved, or the right to fair judgment are reasons for sealing a record. Either of the involved parties or the court may make a move to seal a divorce record. Concerned parties must agree to request the sealing of the record. After that, an Act 5 form must be filled and submitted to the Court of Common Pleas. If the court approves the request, then an executive order to seal the record is issued. A sealed record is available only to the parties involved and their attorneys. It takes a formal process to unseal such records.

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