Are Divorce Records Public in North Carolina?
Divorce records in North Carolina are considered public records and can be inspected or copied for a fee within the state. Provisions for copies of public records and fees are included in the North Carolina legislature § 132-6.2. This law makes it a requirement for public record custodians to allow members of the public to access these records in a timely manner.
Information pertaining to divorce court proceedings can be accessed at public access terminals in the clerk of court offices in North Carolina counties. These terminals provide access to the courts' case management system, the Civil Case Processing System or VCAP, which contains information on civil case proceedings from filing to disposition.
Divorce certificates can be obtained from the court clerk’s office in the county where the divorce was finalized or from the office of vital records. Copies of divorce decrees, divorce judgments, and other divorce documents can usually only be accessed through the court clerk’s office for a fee.
North Carolina Divorce Record
A divorce record or a dissolution of a marriage record is the most complete record that is created as a result of divorce proceedings. It contains information from the divorce papers, divorce decree, and other divorce documents. Essentially, a divorce (or dissolution of marriage) record is the case file for a divorce. Both parties are given a copy of this record after the divorce, and it is usually suggested that they keep it safe in case they want to make changes to it later. Accessing this type of record requires fees and identification, but is usually considered a public record and may be accessible through the clerk of courts and the state vital records office.
How to Find Public Divorce Records Online
Government public record search portals, like those provided by county clerk's offices, can be used to find public divorce records online. In North Carolina, divorce cases are considered civil cases and are maintained as public records. Divorce is also commonly known as marriage dissolution, and it happens when two married people decide to reverse their decision to marry, ultimately ending it.
Publicly available divorce records are also managed and disseminated by some third-party aggregate sites. These sites are generally not limited by geographical record availability and may serve as a convenient jump-off point when researching specific or multiple records. However, third-party sites are not government-sponsored. As such, record availability may differ from official channels. The requesting party will be required to provide the following information to find a record using the search engines on third-party sites:
- The location of the record in question, including the city, county, or state where the case was filed.
- The name of someone involved, provided it is not a juvenile.
How to Obtain North Carolina Divorce Records From the State Vital Records Office
The North Carolina Vital Records Office holds and maintains divorce records from the year 1958 to the present. The Vital Records office also maintains birth, death, and marriage certificates. They can provide certified or uncertified copies of these records to requesting parties with a completed public records request form. For a certified copy, the cost is $24.00, and an additional $15.00 for every extra copy. This payment can be made in the form of a check or money order made out to North Carolina Vital Records. This request can be submitted in person or by mail. The address of the North Carolina Vital Records office is:
NC Vital Records
1903 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1903
To access a divorce certificate, you'll need to provide a photocopy of valid photo identification. Acceptable forms of ID include:
- Valid driver's license or state ID with an address listed matching address on the application
- Passport or Visa
- Military ID
- Department of Corrections ID
- State or government agency ID
- Student ID, including transcript
If the above documents are not available for the requesting party, they must include TWO of the following:
- Temporary driver’s license or state ID
- Most up-to-date utility bills with addresses listed
- Car registration address is listed
- Bank statement address listed
- Pay stub with an address listed
- W-2 form with address listed
- State weapon permit with an address listed
For any questions regarding fees or general information about vital records, the telephone number is (919) 733-3000.
How to Obtain Divorce Records From the Clerk of Court’s Office
Besides the Vital Records Office, there is not a statewide database for obtaining public records like divorce records in North Carolina. Along with all current divorce records, the clerk of court in every county is responsible for the records of divorces that occurred before 1958. In every clerk of the court’s office, there is a Civil Case Processing System (VCAP) that holds information about civil court cases in the county that they are searching from. To use this system, requesting parties should first know the party names involved in the case or case numbers associated with it. Members of the public can also view the VCAP user’s manual online, which outlines how the system works and how to access files.
Divorce Certificates vs Divorce Decrees
Divorce records come in different forms, including divorce certificates and divorce decrees. These documents serve different purposes, and when requesting a divorce record, it can be important to know the distinctions.
North Carolina Divorce Certificates
North Carolina divorce certificates are simple documents the state issues to confirm that a marriage has been dissolved. A certificate typically contains the names of the former spouses, the divorce date, and where the divorce happened.
In most cases, the certificate can be obtained from the clerk of court in the county where the divorce is filed. Unlike a divorce decree or court record, a North Carolina divorce certificate carries only general details about the divorce case. It essentially exists to show that a divorce legally happened. The parties involved in the divorce may request this document when they wish to change their name as it appears on their identification documents or if they are applying for a new marriage certificate.
North Carolina Divorce Decrees
A North Carolina divorce decree, also known as a divorce judgment, is usually only available to the parties involved in the divorce and their lawyers. A divorce decree or judgment is produced at the conclusion of a divorce case, and it shows the disposition of the court to the divorce petition. A divorce decree contains general information and also contains the court's judgment and divorce agreement terms. This includes agreements surrounding custody, property designation, child support, alimony, and any scheduling that is relevant to the parties. This document is often requested when one of the involved parties wishes to alter it. It is possible to access divorce decree online in North Carolina.
Can Divorce Records Be Sealed?
Yes. However, the courts in North Carolina do not typically seal divorce records. LR 5.4, pertaining to Filing Documents Under Seal, states that if a party wishes to seal a record, they must make it known to the court by filing a Motion to Seal. Both parties involved must agree to seal the record or redact some sections of it. It is more likely that a judge will grant the right for a divorce record to be partly sealed rather than completely sealed. Some reasons for sealing a divorce record include protecting the identity of minors, protecting information regarding businesses or companies, preventing rumors or untrue allegations, or protecting a victim of domestic violence or abuse.
Does North Carolina Recognize Common-Law Marriages?
Common-law marriages created in North Carolina aren't considered valid under NC state laws. A common law marriage is one in which both parties consent to the existence of the union. It has yet to be officiated or registered with either the state or a church. The fact that a couple has cohabited for a while does not automatically transform their relationship into a common-law marriage. This is a common misconception. Typically, some rules or conditions must be met before a couple can identify themselves as married in public. North Carolina law provides that an ordained clergyperson of any religious denomination or a magistrate may only create a marriage by proclaiming the parties joined in matrimony.
How to Get a Divorce in North Carolina
Different circumstances lead to a divorce in North Carolina. For example, adultery, spousal abandonment, drug abuse, or cruel treatment. Either way, anyone who wants to get a divorce in North Carolina must file an original divorce petition in a North Carolina district court. After filing, a petitioner is expected to serve their spouse (the defendant) with copies of the divorce documents and wait 30 days for a response. When the defendant responds, or if no response is filed after 30 days, the petitioner can contact the court clerk to schedule the court date.
Occasionally, spouses may agree to the terms outlined in the divorce papers. When this happens, it is an uncontested divorce. However, when the parties cannot reach an agreement, the case is deemed "contested" and proceeds to trial.
After the trial, the court releases a judgment or a decree that finalizes the divorce case, thereby leading to a formal marriage dissolution. Often, a divorce certificate and decree are issued to the parties as evidence for future reference. Divorced parties can also request these records later on.
North Carolina establishes certain eligibility requirements to file for divorce. In the state, anyone filing for marriage dissolution must have been physically separated from their spouse for at least a year and one day. The individual must also currently live in the state and must have lived there for at least six months before case initiation. More information about the North Carolina divorce process can be obtained from the state judiciary's divorce self-help page.
Note: A divorce case can be settled out of court by a divorce agreement (uncontested divorce), or it can proceed to trial, depending on its complexity. In either scenario, the court will issue a divorce decree outlining the terms and conditions of the divorce to finalize the case.