How Long to Keep Divorce Papers: Forever (6 Reasons Why)

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Background Checks | October 7, 2022

Man wonders how long to keep divorce papers while looking at a calendar that is flipping pages while behind his back a divorce records document and divorce papers filing cabinet is open.

Many individuals who are going through or have been through a divorce may wonder how long to keep divorce papers?

Most legal experts recommend keeping at least some of the divorce documents forever as there are at least 6 reasons why those documents may be needed in the future and worth having around.

Individuals who have already shredded or misplaced divorce documents have nothing to worry about as obtaining new copies is a fairly simple process which can be completed through the courts or through the office of the attorneys that were involved.

In fact, they can easily be checked using a name based background check in the state where the divorce was filed.

The following guide explains 6 reasons why the answer to how long to keep divorce records is forever.

Is There Any Reason to Keep Divorce Papers? (Yes, There’s 6)

Many individuals may have the desire to shred many if not all of their divorce papers once a divorce is finalized. Although these papers may contain lots of painful memories that individuals will not be keen on revisiting, many of these documents will have important legal information that may need to be referenced at a later date.

Screenshot of IRS website page about alimony with yellow arrow pointing to recapture of alimony.

Keep in mind, based on some details of the divorce there may be tons of paperwork that is simply no longer needed or has an extremely low chance of ever being relevant again in the future. This is especially common howwith more complex divorces that may have dragged out for months, resulting in boxes of correspondence between lawyers, discovery, affidavits, and more. In this case, most of these documents that were simply used as evidence for the divorce proceedings can be thrown out.

Another option is to scan the documents and store them electronically, however, all these documents should already be kept on file with the court where the divorce proceedings occur, so any document can be obtained in an emergency.

Before delving into the question of how long to keep divorce papers, individuals should first be aware of what divorce papers they need to keep and why they need to keep them.

What Do You Need Divorce Papers For?

Anyone who’s asked, how do I get a copy of my divorce decree online, understands that keeping hard copies of this important record can come in handy. Divorce papers are used for all sorts of things. Many individuals may be considering shredding many divorce papers simply because they think they are no longer of any relevance once the divorce has been finalized. Although many documents will never be used again, preparing for a worst-case scenario is usually a good idea.

Most divorce records will only be used if something is contested after the divorce has been finalized, if this happens it will be much easier to pull a file that you already have, instead of wasting time and energy trying to track down a specific document through the court clerk.

Below are some of the common reasons for divorce records to be used once the divorce has been finalized. Although not all of them will be relevant to all individuals, such as divorces that do not involve children, it’s important to keep as many documents as reasonably possible as there are hundreds of reasons why they may need to be referenced.

Reason #1. Tax Reasons

Since a divorce usually indicates a drastic change in an individual’s financial and living situation, many of the documents will be needed for tax reasons. Child support alone will need significant documentation to prove that a portion of an individual’s income is going to child support as well as documents showing the change of assets and debts that occurred during the divorce proceedings.

Screenshot of IRS website page about decrees with yellow arrows pointing out to spouse or former spouse, divorce, invalid decree, amended instrument.

This is especially important during the first tax season after the divorce is finalized as obtaining these documents through the courts may take more time than antiquated and cause a delay in submitting your end-of-the-year taxes.

Reason #2. Social Security Benefits

Individuals who were married for more than 10 years should be careful to keep track of their marriage license and marriage certificate throughout the divorce proceedings. Often these items are lost in the shuffle but can still be important documents after the divorce.

For example, couples that were married to each other for more than 10 years prior to the divorce may be entitled to their former spouse’s social security benefits. In order to do so, individuals will need to prove that they were married for at least 10 years which can easily be done with the use of the original marriage certificate.

Screenshot of a website page about divorce with yellow arrow pointed to the benefits if the divorced spouse.

If these documents are misplaced they can be easily obtained through the courts in the case of the marriage license or through the state vital records office for a marriage certificate.

Reason #3. Child Support

The divorce decree is the most important document when it comes to divorce proceedings and continues to be important after the divorce is finalized. This document will show the way assets and debts were divided as well as the child support or spousal support that was agreed upon in court. Having this document around for reference will make tons of issues far easier and quicker to resolve down the line.

Reason #4. Financial Statements

Although many people think that once a divorce has been finalized there will be no more legal proceedings between the couple, this is rarely the case. There are tons of reasons to end up in court again whether it’s child support or child custody issue, as well as various financial matters.

One common reason that divorced couples end up back in court is due to one of the individuals attempting to change the payment terms that were originally settled during the initial divorce proceedings. This may be done due to a change in the individual’s employment, or living situation, or due to an injury or illness that causes them to miss work.

In this case, more than just the divorce decree will be necessary. Even though it can be a lot to keep track of, keeping track of any financial documents relating to the divorce can be useful if one party attempts to change the terms of the divorce.

Reason #5. Settlement Agreement

The divorce decree and any documents relating to the settlement and terms of the divorce are also a great thing to keep around for non-financial related issues. This is especially true regarding child custody as the divorce decree will lay out the exact details of the custody agreement. This will be a useful document to reference if there is a violation of the custody agreement at any time.

Reason #6. Appraisals

Although most of the couple’s assets will be divided up as soon as the divorce is finalized, some assets may not be divided until a certain amount of time has elapsed. In this case, keeping track of any appraisals that were made during the divorce proceedings regarding the couple’s assets should be kept for later reference.

Similarly, any documents regarding the divorce after it has been finalized should be kept for the same reasons. In some cases, getting something reappraised may be necessary and both the original appraisal and the new one should be kept track of just in case.

How Long Do You Need to Keep Divorce Papers? (How Long to Keep Divorce Records in Every State)

Individuals trying to declutter their house may stumble upon some old divorce papers and will want to know how long to keep divorce papers. Most legal experts recommend keeping legal documents forever and the same is true for divorce records.

Individuals can simply never know when a certain document may be necessary and having it available will be far easier than trying to track down the document through the court clerk, especially if the individual has moved away from the county where the divorce took place.

How Long to Keep Divorce Papers inNumber of Years
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Alabama (AL)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Alaska (AK)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Arizona (AZ)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Arkansas (AR)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in California (CA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Colorado (CO)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Connecticut (CT)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Delaware (DE)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Florida (FL)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Georgia (GA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Hawaii (HI)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Idaho (ID)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Illinois (IL)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Indiana (IN)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Iowa (IA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Kansas (KS)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Kentucky (KY)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Louisiana (LA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Maine (ME)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Maryland (MD)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Massachusetts (MA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Michigan (MI)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Minnesota (MN)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Mississippi (MS)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Missouri (MO)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Montana (MT)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Nebraska (NE)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Nevada (NV)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in New Hampshire (NH)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in New Jersey (NJ)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in New Mexico (NM)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in New York (NY)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in North Carolina (NC)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in North Dakota (ND)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Ohio (OH)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Oklahoma (OK)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Oregon (OR)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Pennsylvania (PA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Rhode Island (RI)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in South Carolina (SC)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in South Dakota (SD)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Tennessee (TN)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Texas (TX)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Utah (UT)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Vermont (VT)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Virginia (VA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Washington (WA)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in West Virginia (WV)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Wisconsin (WI)?Forever
How Long to Keep Divorce Papers in Wyoming (WY)?Forever

How Long to Keep Divorce Papers After Other Party Is Deceased?

Legal experts recommend that individuals keep divorce decrees forever, even once the other party is deceased. However, all other documents can be shredded after three years as they are unlikely to be used again. This is another example of how scanning certain documents and storing them electronically is useful, especially for documents that may need to be referenced later but will not require certified copies.

Do You Need Divorce Papers to Remarry?

Some individuals wondering how long to keep divorce papers for may be thinking about getting remarried. The divorce decree as well as some details of the divorce, such as whether or not the former spouse is still living will be needed in order to get remarried. This alone is a great reason to keep track of these documents.

Screenshot of Clark County website page about divorce with yellow arrows pointing to bullet points about it.

Keep in mind that marriage laws vary from state to state, although most states require that individuals have certified copies of their divorce decree in order for their new marriage to get finalized, other states will not require documentation.

How Long After Divorce Can You Remarry?

The waiting period that is required between a divorce and another marriage varies by state. In some states, such as Delaware,2 there is no waiting period required at all. However, some states, such as Massachusetts, require individuals to wait 90 days or risk the marriage being voided by the county.1

How to Find Out if Someone Is Divorced

Finding out if an individual is divorced is a fairly difficult process. Just like finding out if someone is married, many states do not actually consider this information to be a public record. However, there are still a few different ways to try and find this information.

The quickest way to search for this information is to use an online public records search through a background check agency, which can be done using the search bar at the top of this page. However, this will only show divorce information if the divorce occurred in a state that makes these records public.

Are Divorce Records Public?

Divorce records are not considered public in most states.

In general, divorce records are kept in two different places. The first is with the state vital records office alongside birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage records. However vital record information is not public and can only be requested by the individual themselves or certain family members.

Besides this, there should be a record of the divorce in the court where it took place. Unfortunately, many states will automatically seal divorce records as much of the information in the divorce decree is fairly private, making it impossible to obtain by anyone by the parties to the divorce.

Related Reading: Premarital Background Check: Eliminate Divorce With This Prenuptial Trick

Are Marriage Records Public?

Marriage records are not considered public and individuals trying to obtain them will face many of the same issues as individuals trying to obtain divorce records. Both marriage vital records and marriage court records are usually impossible to obtain by anyone but the parties to the marriage.

How To Find Divorce Records

The most reliable way to find divorce records is by searching the court records of where the divorce took place. Although it may not be possible to request the records due to them being sealed, in some cases it can be possible to see that the divorce documents exist, even if the actual contents and details of the divorce are not available.

Screenshot of department of health website page about vital records with yellow arrows pointing to marriage certificates and divorce decrees.

All individuals should search their own divorce records soon after the divorce is finalized simply to ensure that all the documents and information are accurate.

What Paperwork Do You Get After a Divorce?

Based on the circumstances of the divorce there is tons of paperwork that individuals may end up with. However, the one document that every divorce will include is the divorce decree.

The divorce decree is the document that is signed by a judge that makes the divorce final. This document will also contain all the details of the judgment such as asset and debt division, child custody information, etc.

What Does a Divorce Decree Look Like?

A divorce decree is usually a single-page document that contains the names of both spouses, the name of the attorneys involved, the name of the judge, and the date that the divorce was finalized.

Do You Have to Keep Divorce Papers?

It is not required that individuals keep their divorce papers and many people will want to get rid of them for various reasons. However, it is always recommended that individuals keep any and all legal documents for later reference.

How Do I Get a Copy of My Divorce Decree Online?

Individuals who were a party to the divorce can usually obtain a divorce decree online through the website of the court where the divorce was finalized. Most state courts have online systems that can be searched using an individual’s name.3 To request a certified copy of a document, payment is usually required.

How Do I Get a Copy of My Marriage License After Divorce?

Individuals can obtain a copy of their marriage license after a divorce through the court where the marriage was finalized. The easiest way to do this is to contact the local court clerk and ask about how to make a records request.

Can I Get a Copy of My Marriage Certificate After Divorce?

Individuals looking to obtain their own marriage certificate after a divorce can easily do so by contacting their state’s vital records office. Marriage certificates are kept by the vital records office, rather than the courts, and making a request is usually a fairly easy process if the individual is requesting their own records.

Screenshot of Nevada website page about marriage and divorce records with yellow arrows pointing to search request.

Getting divorced can be extremely stressful and keeping track of boxes of documents can be a difficult task with a lot of painful memories associated with it. However, when it comes to how long to keep divorce papers, individuals should hold on to as much as they can forever, just in case there is a legal issue that can be resolved by referring to the existing documents.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Long to Keep Divorce Papers

How Long Do I Need to Keep Copies of Divorce Papers?

Individuals should keep copies of their divorce papers forever, especially the divorce decree and any financial documents. Keep in mind that any misplaced documents can be obtained through the court records of where the divorce proceedings occurred.

How to Get a Copy of My Divorce Decree?

Individuals can usually obtain a copy of their divorce decree in less than a week through the court where the divorce was filed. If an electronic copy is sufficient, this can often take just a few days to complete.

How Long to Keep Attorney Divorce Papers?

Any and all legal documents related to a divorce should be kept forever. However, the court and the individual’s attorney will have copies of virtually every document so obtaining any documents after a divorce is finalized should be fairly easy.

Do You Have to Declare Previous Marriage?

When getting remarried individuals will need to declare any and all previous marriages. This is one of the reasons that keeping all divorce-related documents is so important, as they are often needed for unrelated matters down the line.

Do You Need Divorce Papers to Get Married in Vegas?

Getting married in Las Vegas, Nevada does not actually require divorce papers. When filling out the marriage license there will be a section that asks if the individual is legally divorced. Although no official documentation is necessary there is a risk of the marriage being voidable in the state of Nevada if the divorce had not been finalized.


References

1Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (2022, July 29). Massachusetts Law About Marriage. Mass.gov. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from <https://www.mass.gov/info-details/massachusetts-law-about-marriage>

2The Delaware Judiciary. (2016). Divorce/Annulment Overview. Delaware Courts. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from <https://courts.delaware.gov/family/divorce/>

3Judicial Council of California. (2022, August 26). Home. California Courts. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from <https://www.courts.ca.gov/>

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