Are Divorce Records Public in Wisconsin?

Is a divorce part of the public record in Wisconsin?  Should it be?  After all, are your family issues really anyone else’s business?  I ran across an interesting article from a few years ago written by a California divorce attorney lamenting the fact that divorce records are public and found that I agreed with most of his points. (My Divorce is None of Your Business). The premise of the article is that marriage and family are private and protected in many other areas of the law and society – so should then be divorce.

In Wisconsin, the answer is yes, divorce records are public.  In fact, Wisconsin is one of the few states that give full public access to all court records online, including divorce (see CCAP).  The only exception is paternity or children’s court cases which are confidential.  Your court file is public record with the exception of financial statements, which are sealed.  All family court proceedings, again except paternity cases, are open to the public.

How does this affect you?  In reality, unless you have a really nosy neighbor with way too much time on their hands, people you know are not going to trek to the courthouse and peruse through your divorce file.  But, CCAP does cause all types of issues for the people of Wisconsin.  There has been much debate in Wisconsin about the level of access the public should have to these records.  There have been complaints about discrimination from prospective employers, landlords, etc.  The fact of it is, in Wisconsin, any contact you have had with the legal system is an open book for all to see.

The details of your divorce judgment are not necessarily listed on CCAP.  But, sometimes details peek through in the notes the clerks make in the system with regards to hearings and court findings.  This is dependent on the clerk and the judge.  Occasionally, the judges will seal or restrict what appears on CCAP but a party would need to petition the court for that and there would need to be a compelling reason (a public figure, safety issues, etc.).

As family lawyers, one issue that we have with CCAP is that your divorce filing appears almost instantly.  Therefore, if you don’t want your spouse to know you filed yet, you simply can’t file.  Sometimes, there are reasons to file but to wait to serve the papers.  Often when there is domestic violence, we want to initiate the divorce quickly to obtain a court date but don’t want to serve to allow our clients time to move out or put into place a safety plan.  However, with the advent of CCAP, we can no longer do that.  Pre-divorce planning is crucial in these situations and you should consult with your attorney regarding same.

Conversely, public court records can also be extremely helpful.  It is difficult now to hide bad behavior and conceal legal problems or debts.  Family lawyers can better protect our clients from undisclosed issues.  In virtually every case, we feel an obligation to search CCAP to discover potential issues or problems.  CCAP also allows us to keep track of and monitor our cases.  It is an extremely important tool and resource for those of us working in the legal system.

The bottom line is that divorce can be messy and in Wisconsin, at least, it is public.  Whatever your opinion might be about that, it is the reality that we must live with.

To discuss your case further with an experienced divorce attorney, contact us at 414-258-1644 to schedule a free initial office consultation or visit our website for more information.

19 thoughts on “Are Divorce Records Public in Wisconsin?

  1. I need to get all the paperwork (ie-hearings, status checks, findings, orders, stipulations, etc.- ANY & ALL PaPeRs) from my divorce for a case that Im a part of currently. Im having a hard time finding anything on how i can get that information, please help me?! Thank you

    • It depends on what paperwork you need. If you need court documents, you can go to the clerk of courts in your county and ask for a copy of your file. Unfortunately, most counties charge up to $1.25 per page for copies so you want to be selective on what you actually need. Or, they may have a copy machine for your use but you still will need to pay per copy. If you need a copy of your file that your attorney has, then they must provide the original file to you upon your request although they also have the right to charge you for copying your file for their own records.

    • I cannot think of any reason why it should. It is extremely rare for a request to remove a case from CCAP is granted and you should have been contacted if there was such a request made. Try searching using various options such as your name, your spouse’s name or your case number. Sometimes the clerks make a mistake on spelling and I have to use various options to find a case. If these search options still yield no results, you can contact the site administrator to ask. There is a link on the main page for you to use.

  2. Do divorces get published in the newspaper once it’s finalized?
    My spouse is worried everyone and these cousin is going to see it in the newspaper…

  3. Your article states that paternity cases are confidential and not posted on CCAP. However, my child’s paternity case is public record on CCAP and I do feel that it crosses the line and it is no ones business. How can I asked this be removed from public viewing?

    • Certain types of actions associated with paternity cases are on CCAP. For example, actions for support only or maybe a grandparent visitation case. However, a case involving a Petition for the Adjudication of Paternity is not supposed to be on CCAP. If it is, you should contact the Clerk of Courts office to let them know and ask them to remove it.

  4. What is the reason that family matters are public? Divorces and child support matters can be humiliating and embarassing not just for adults but the innocent children involved. Nothing about them should be public because family is personal. How can we citizens protect our families and stop the courts from doing this to our private/family matters??

    • The court system in general is public. Certain family matters, such as a paternity action or children’s court proceedings, are sealed. This is primarily because the action is solely about the child. However, divorce actions, which are between the two parties, are considered to be a civil suit just as any other civil lawsuit even those some of the issues in a divorce can touch upon the children. Financial records and documents are sealed for privacy but all other court records are open to the public. There is value to an open judiciary system so that the judges, who are elected officials, are performing their duties according to the standards that we set for them and are held accountable for their actions. Beyond that, if you feel strongly about this topic, you should contact your legislator to effectuate any change.

  5. I have been optimistic in life and have been married 4 times. I am embarrassed of my failures and want them off my records. My first divorce was 1991. Why is that even still on there? Everyone judges off from the records and I have no criminal activity.

    • No, I’m afraid not you would not be successful in your request. It is extremely difficult to purge any court record from the system, much less a divorce. I’m sorry.

  6. I have tried every option I can see and cannot pull up divorce information on my divorce in 1987. What am I doing wrong

    • It is likely too old. Wisconsin CCAP records only go back to a certain date. You should contact the Clerk of Courts office in the county in which you were divorced and they may be able to assist you in obtaining the information that you need.

  7. Just a quick odd question. I haven’t seen or hear from my “husband” since 2012 when he ran off with another woman. Yes we are legally married. How would I go about finding out if he filed for divorce, without having to pay an arm & leg, since I no longer live in Wisconsin & have had no contact with him?

    • Information about all Wisconsin divorces is available online. Just Google Wisconsin CCAP records to get to the right page. A search of either of your names should bring up the action if it has been filed.

  8. I was married in June of 1999, haven’t lived with my husband since 2005, he’s telling people that he divorced me years ago? (I’d be Xtremely happy IF he did, but how can I find out, with paying hundreds of dollars?

    • You can check the Wisconsin CCAP system. Search for either your name or his name. If there is nothing, then there was no divorce. If not, you should probably take care of that soon.

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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