Every divorce story is unique. Maybe you’d been married for a year, or perhaps your marriage lasted for several decades. Perhaps you have children, or maybe you only have pets. Maybe you’re heartbroken, or maybe you’re relieved—or perhaps you feel a bit of both.

However you got here, you’ve now found yourself in a situation where you need a copy of your divorce certificate. It’s a useful document that acts as proof of dissolution without outlining all of the nitty-gritty details of the case.

Divorce records are good documents to have on hand in general; many states require them when you want to remarry. You may also need them to apply for a legal name change or provide evidence that you are legally divorced. Here’s how to obtain a divorce certificate in California.

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Divorce Decree vs. Divorce Certificate

If you want to obtain a divorce certificate in California, it’s important to first cover the difference between a divorce decree and a divorce certificate. A certificate shouldn’t be confused with a decree—a “divorce decree” is from the court, while a “divorce certificate” is issued by the state for record-keeping purposes. Below are the core differences between the two documents and steps to obtain a copy of your divorce certificate in California.

Divorce Decree

A divorce decree is the final judgment of the court. It contains all the details about your case, including information on spousal support, child custody, visitation rights, and property division. The decree essentially contains all of the agreed-upon information of your particular case.

Only a court can issue a decree. If the case went to trial, the decree will indicate the terms of the judge’s decision that both parties must obey moving forward. If you settled, then the decree will contain information about the terms of the settlement. It acts as the final judgment of the case in both instances.

The decree can be obtained from the county clerk where the paperwork was filed. It can be used to:

  • Alter your will
  • Add new or remove beneficiaries on your insurance policies
  • Change power of attorney
  • Place bank accounts in your name only
  • Cancel or change credit cards
  • Bring the case back to court if you need to change child or spousal support at a later time
  • Bring your ex-spouse back to court for violating the terms of the decree

For obvious reasons, only involved persons or their attorneys can obtain a copy of the decree.

Divorce Certificate

A divorce certificate is different from a decree. For starters, the court doesn’t make them; the state prepares the certificates for record-keeping reasons. The certificate is a much simpler document. It shows the names of you and your ex-spouse, and when and where the divorce occurred.

The certificate has more limited uses than the decree. It works like a birth certificate or marriage record, and its uses include:

  • Showing proof of dissolution
  • Getting a name change (e.g., driver’s license, Social Security, etc.)
  • Applying for a travel visa
  • Getting a passport
  • Inheritance purposes (i.e., to show you are single)
  • Remarrying

How Can You Obtain a Divorce Certificate in California?

If you want to get a copy of your own divorce certificate in California, you have a few options.

1. California Department of Health – Vital Records

The California Department of Public Health – Vital Records (CDPH-VR) will have a copy of the certificate if the divorce occurred between 1962 and June 1984. The vital records agency is responsible for maintaining birth, death, and marriage records. Online requests or mail-in requests both take 10 to 12 weeks to process. Check out the CDPH-VR website for more information.

2. Superior Court of California

You can obtain certified copies of divorce records (both certificate and decree) in-person or through the mail from the county court. If you’re unsure about which court handled the divorce, search for it on this list of superior courts in California. To request by mail, send the county clerk:

  • A written request with the case number. Every county has a request form. For example, click here to access the Family Records Copy Request Form for Santa Clara County.
  • A check payable to the Superior Court. The exact payment will depend on the county. You can see a list of fee schedules here, including information on how to get a fee waiver.
  • A self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient postage.

Get Help With Your California Divorce Documents

Once you’ve learned how to obtain a divorce certificate in California, it’s time to learn how to go through the rest of the process. A People’s Choice is a unique online service that provides custom, hands-on assistance to couples looking to dissolve marriages in California. In addition to filing divorce papers in court, we can provide you with assistance in obtaining your divorce certificate or decree. Call us now to start your divorce today!

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