Divorce can expose personal information to public view, but the court may agree to seal parts of the record.
Divorce records appear in three forms, which are public to varying degrees.
Divorce certificate, decree, and court record
The vital records offices of Pennsylvania and other U.S. states issue a divorce certificate, which shows only basic information such as the names of the parties and where, when, and in which court the divorce occurred. In most states, anyone who pays a fee can get a copy.
A divorce decree is an order issued by the court that makes the divorce final. Some decrees set out details of the terms, while others present only basic information and refer to a separate document containing divorce details. Most states allow only the divorced couple and their legal representatives to view this document or other people who can show a legitimate interest, such as executors.
The divorce court record contains all documents filed and any court transcripts. In most states, the court that finalized the divorce decides who gets access. It is common to confine access to the divorced couple and their attorneys, but in some cases, the court may allow other people to see, but not copy, some documents.
Sealing private information in the court record
One or both parties can ask the court to seal parts of the divorce record if it contains, for instance, false allegations, child abuse details, identifying information about children, or business or health information. Protection is not absolute, as people can petition the court to see sealed portions.
When privacy is important, settling a divorce instead of going to court can make it easier to keep details out of the public eye.