Divorce Decree California

At the end of your divorce, the judge ends your marriage and makes rulings about your children, your estate, and more. Every detail is recorded, and both parties sign it. The judge also signs the document and affixes formal seals and stamps. This is your official divorce decree.

Courts give both parties official copies of the divorce decree. But some people lose or misplace these important documents later on. 

To get a copy of your divorce decree, follow these steps:

  1.  Visit the superior court that corresponds to the county that issued your divorce.
  2.  Fill out the requested county-specific forms.
  3.  Pay a small fee.

Keep reading to find out what is (and is not) included in a divorce decree and what you might need to get it.

Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California


What's included in a divorce decree?

Think of your divorce decree as the official instructions at the end of your marriage. Each item in the document is enforceable by law, and the more detailed the document, the easier it is to understand and abide by.

While your divorce decree includes the official date of your divorce, so much more is listed, including these things:

  • Child custody arrangements
  • Child visitation schedules
  • Child support amounts
  • Spousal support payments 
  • Marital property and debt divisions 

Many of these details are sensitive, but divorce records are public in California.

In 1999, California courts ruled on a case involving press access to sensitive court proceedings. The courts ruled that the First Amendment should provide a right of access to all kinds of court records, including those that involve family matters. Because of this ruling, it’s very hard for the courts to shield even sensitive data from members of the public.

Some exceptions exist. California’s codes do allow judges to shield some parts of cases from public view. Judges can do so if they believe that shielding the data is necessary in the interest of judges and the persons involved.

A judge might seal records if the case involves an issue like child abuse, domestic violence, or assault. If the divorce involved details about a party’s mental health or addictions, those statements could be sealed, too.  

Unless the court restricts access, the public can access them. This means the details won’t be private for most people.

Where can you get a divorce decree in California?

Californians may be accustomed to heading to vital records offices for official decrees. Divorces work a little differently. No vital records office can give you a divorce decree. Instead, you must work within California's legal system. 

Superior courts (also called trial courts) can give you divorce decrees. There are 58 of these courts, and you must find the one that corresponds to the county that issued your divorce. Do that research here

Every court works a little differently. While some allow mail-in requests, others do not. Do your research so you'll know just what to expect. 

Most courts have forms to fill out for divorce decree copies. You're typically asked for the following:

  • The formal names of both parties 
  • The year of the divorce
  • The court case number

If you don't know the case number, someone must scour the records and find that information for you. Typically, this process takes a little longer, and you're charged for that research time. 

Fees for these documents can vary. In Santa Clara, for example, you'll pay the following fees:

  • $15 for research if you don't know the case number
  • Between $15 and $40 for certification, depending on the type of divorce 
  • A copy fee per page of between $0.05 and $1, depending on whether the originals are printed singly or double-sided

You must pay these fees in advance, and if the organization mails you the forms, you might be asked to pay postage, too. 

Can you ignore a divorce decree?

A divorce decree is a legal document containing a judge’s signature. Consider it a series of orders that you must follow. If those directions are ignored, the court can get involved.

After your divorce is finalized, you’re required to follow all of the directions in the divorce decree. That means following child custody agreements, making child support payments, and exchanging assets.

If you can’t meet your divorce obligations because something has changed (like your income after a job loss), you can go back to the court and ask for help revising your arrangements. A judge must sign off on these plans.

If you simply ignore the rules in the divorce decree, your ex can do things like go back to the court and ask for wage garnishments. Your ex can also reach out to local child support agencies for help with issues relating to your children.

When you’re dealing with ignored court orders after a divorce, it’s best to get legal help. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and the remedies available.

Divorce decrees and certificates: What's the difference?

A divorce decree and a divorce certificate both contain details about the end of your marriage. But a divorce certificate is less detailed than a divorce decree.

A divorce certificate contains little more than the following:

  • Each person's name
  • The name of the judge 
  • The name and location of the court 
  • The date of the divorce 

This table can help you understand the differences between these two types of records:

Information Included

Divorce Decree

Divorce Certificate

Names of spouses



Name of the judge



Location of the court



Date of the divorce



Child custody arrangements



Child support payments



Spousal support payments



Marital property and debt divisions



You can contact the court (even if it's not a superior court) that handled your divorce to get a copy of your divorce decree. Find your court here

What is a certificate of record?

The California Department of Public Health was once involved in tracking the state’s marriages and divorces. The agency issued certificates, and sometimes, people still ask for them.

If the divorce was finalized between 1962 and June 1984, the California Department of Public Health may have a certificate of record that includes the following information:

  •   Names of both parties
  •   Filing date
  •   County
  •   Case number

Complete this form, and mail it to the address specified with a check for $16. The department will mail you the certificate.


Mail-In Request for Copies of Divorce Records. California Department of Public Health. 
Superior Courts. Judicial Branch of California. 
Family Records Copy Request Form. (October 2020). Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. 
Divorce Index. Judicial Branch of California. 
The Divorce Process: A Step By Step Guide. (December 2022). Forbes.
California. (September 2022). Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
CA Fam Code 214. (2022). Justia.
After Your Divorce is Final in California. Judicial Branch of California

Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.