I. Overview of Topic
Can you find out if somebody's married or divorced in the U.S., using public information?
The answer is yes, but that answer has to be qualified a little. Why? Because free marriage records and
free divorce records are geographically scattered in the U.S. They're maintained by both States and Counties, and there are 50 States (plus the District of Columbia) and over 3,000 Counties. Unfortunately, there is no national repository of free marriage records or free divorce records. So it's not possible, for example, to simply go to a national online database, put in someone's name and date-of-birth, and find out if he or she has been married or divorced.
However, it is possible to access public records in the States and/or Counties in which the individual has lived (say, for the past ten years) and may have gotten married or divorced in, and to search for a marriage license or divorce record. In this way, you can determine his or her marital status with reasonable certainty.
In addition, you can run a basic online background check at US Search or other online background check service to determine if the person is living with someone of the opposite sex (i.e, someone who is about the same age), and also, if the person is living with children or teen-agers. These are also good indicators of the person's present and past marital status.
If you are considering entering into a serious relationship with someone it's obviously very important to know that person is telling the truth about his/her marital status. The emotional cost of finding out that the person is married (or is not divorced as he/she has claimed) can be high. There are potential financial costs, too. For example, if you should marry someone who has been delinquent on child support payments from a former marriage, you may be found jointly liable for those payments.
As is well-known, men are more prone to lie about their marital status than women. However, nowadays, both sexes are wise to check out the marital status of potential long-term partners or spouses. The Internet has made the process much easier than it used to be. In the past, if you wanted to find out if someone had gotten married in a given County, you'd have to visit the courthouse and search for marriage records in person (or hire a private investigator to do it for you). Now, the Internet makes it possible to do this free marriage records search online in many cases. Many States and Counties now provide free marriage records and free divorce records on public websites; and most of those which don't will provide this information by phone.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Today, innumerable websites and online information providers promise to answer the question "Is he (ore she) married?" for a fee. However, I've found that most of these sites only offer searches in a few States that happen to provide statewide repositories of free marriage records or free divorce records. In those few States you can just visit the State's web page and run the search yourself, and for free, using the resource list below). And in States that do not provide such repositories, you can probably still utilize the information in this report to get the information you need.
Inevitably, it's preferable for you to do the research yourself, contacting the appropriate government offices on your own.
FREE MARRIAGE RECORDS AND FREE DIVORCE RECORDS -- THE BASICS
Before starting your research, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the basics of how these types of records are maintained by government agencies.
- 1. Marriage Records
Marriage licenses are maintained at the County level. However, most States can search for and issue marriage certificates (a document certifying that a marriage has taken place, not the same as a marriage license, which is obtained prior to the marriage).
It might seem that the easiest way to search for free marriage records would be to search the State's index of marriages, using the groom's name or bride's maiden name, plus some other identifier, like date of birth. As said, you can do it this way in a few States, like Texas and Florida. But most States don't make it this easy. For example, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington, and many others don't maintain State repositories at all. You have to go to the County level to search for free marriage records. Click here for access to all the State and County links currently available which allow you to name search for marriage records. Some of these websites allow you to name-search; others require you to provide more detailed information or take additional steps.
What if the State and/or County where you need to search isn't listed below (i.e., doesn't have a website that provides free marriage record info)? In this case, I suggest you simply call the County itself and request that a name search be conducted. You'll find this is easy in most small Counties, and gets progressively harder the bigger (more populous) the County is. But it can be done in nearly all Counties if you're persistent and don't mind getting stuck in voice mail jail awhile. After a few minutes (hopefully) a clerk will answer who can run your name search for you while you wait. They may, however, want you to specify a span of years, e.g., 1995-2005 for your search., so you should be ready to do that if asked.
Marriage record indexes are maintained by a variety of offices in the nation's Counties. In most cases, you'll need the Recorder's Office; in some cases, it'll be the Family Court (in a few rural counties, it's the "Filing Office").
We've found the best strategy is to simply tell the telephone operator, "I would like to have a marriage records search conducted. What office can do that for me?" and let them connect you to the proper office.
You can find telephone numbers for the County or Counties you need to call at Background Check Gateway.com.
Note: If you need to find out what County a given City is in, go to NACO.org and click on "City Search."
- 2. Divorce Records
As in the case of marriage records, a few States maintain statewide divorce indexes. At present, these are Texas, Florida, and Nevada. As more become available in the future, I'll add them to this report. If you're not searching for a divorce filing in one of those States, you need to search at the County level.
Again, the easiest way to do this may be online, using the County website. We've included a listing of all the free divorce records County websites we could find below). If the County you need isn't listed, then try calling them. To get the County's phone number, visit their website (via Google) or go to Background Check Gateway.
Across the U.S., divorce cases are handled in various courts in the various jurisdictions. In some, they're handled in Superior or Probate Court, in others, in Family Court. Just ask the County telephone operator for the proper office to determine if a given individual has been divorced in their County.
Note: If you need to find out what County a given City is in, go to NACO.org and click on "City Search."
- 3. Verifying Your Subject's Identity and Finding Past Addresses
Are you certain your prospective date or partner or spouse is who he/she claims to be?
If not, you may need to do a little basic identity verification before you start your research.
It's useless to search for free marriage records or free divorce records for "William Johnson" if his real name turns out to be "Harry Wallace."
Identity verification can range from simple to complex. Complex would involve biometric identification such as fingerprints and eye capillaries, that sort of thing. So let's concentrate on simple.
You know his or her name, or at least the name you were told. Does this name appear in the telephone directory or an online directory like Whowhere.com, corresponding to the address you were given? If so, you might try calling the telephone number and see if he/she answers.
That's a pretty good, if not foolproof, way to check the person's identity.
But you also need to know where the person has lived for the past five to ten years so that you can check for marriage or divorce records in those jurisdictions. For example, if you want to check for marriage records, and your subject has lived in Chicago for the past year and Cincinnati for the seven years prior to that, you would then check Cook County IL and Hamilton County OH. Since many people get married in Las Vegas, you'd probably check Clark County NV as well. If no marriage license shows up in any of these areas, that is a pretty good indication he is not married.
Casual conversation is often the easiest way to find out where your subject has lived. Internet research is another. You can get an instant background check conducted (including address history) for moderate cost at US Search.
III. MORE FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Here are a couple more basic facts you need to know about free marriage records.
- Marriage record indexes (i.e., simple lists of marriage records by the parties' names) usually provide the info you're looking for. You just want to know if the person is married. You don't need a certified copy of the license. You'll find that there are websites (e.g., VitalChek.com) set up primarily to provide certified copies, mainly for legal use by the parties themselves. But to use such sites you need to be one of the parties (husband or wife), or else a relative or lawyer of the parties, and you need to know when the marriage took place and where. Obviously, if you knew all this, you wouldn't be conducting your search in the first place.
- Initially, you'll search the person's present State/County of residence. You should also search his/her past States/Counties of residence. So you need to determine past areas of residence. Try to encourage him/her to talk about himself, and reveal where he/she has lived in the past, then search records in those areas. Alternatively, you can run a basic public-records background check, which should reveal address history and whether your subject is currently living with someone about the same age and opposite sex (presumably a wife or husband), and/or children. As said, a good source for online background checks is US Search. (Note that it's always a good idea to run a basic background check , even if you also conduct a marriage license search using our list of of online resources, below.)
Here are a couple more basic facts you need to know about divorce records.
- As in researching free marriage records, you must first know where the event occurred. In this case, though, it's easy -- or should be. Just ask. After all, the person is claiming he/she "got divorced." So it's reasonable to ask, "Where?" Then it's a simple matter of contacting that County and finding out if there are free divorce records available there. (Alternatively, you can search all Counties corresponding to his/her address history.)
- Again, as in the case of free marriage records, some States/Counties provide websites that index this info, some don't. Scan our list of links below -- if the jurisdiction you need isn't listed you'll need to call them and ask the clerk to do a name search while you wait.
That's it - our ten minutes are up! (OK, maybe twelve or thirteen if
you're a slow reader.) Below is a listing of Web resources to help you
continue your research on free marriage records and free divorce records.
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Part II - For Additional Research
Following are online resources useful in verifying marriage or divorce in the USA. As far as I can determine this is a complete list, however if you know of any resources I haven't found, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Related Web Search Guides
Other Web Search Guides you may find useful: