Searching for divorce decrees in the Dominican Republic in times of Covid-19

This post relates specifically to the search for old Dominican divorce records in the Santo Domingo. Dominican courts were slow to re-open following the initial Covid-19 lockdown. Access to the courthouse was briefly by appointment only, and visitors were solely permitted in a specific holding-area downstairs, but access to the whole building is now possible without any need for an appointment. 
Almost all divorce enquiries that we receive are from US citizens and other non-Dominicans who had a quickie Dominican Republic divorce in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.

Many of our clients can't remember where or when the divorce was granted. In fact, every week we are asked "How do I know if I am divorced in the Dominican Republic?".

Fortunately, we know from years of experience that most quickie divorces were decreed either in one of 5 civil former district courts which are now located in the Palace of the Court of Appeals in downtown Santo Domingo, or in the nearby provincial town of San Cristóbal, just west of the capital.

The Palace of Appeals building in Santo Domingo which houses 5 civil courtrooms where in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s many quickie Dominican divorces were issued
Palace of the Court of Appeals of the National District in Santo Domingo where we obtain many Dominican divorce decrees for our clients

With the reorganisation of the Dominican legal system over the years, the 5 district courts were renamed as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th courtrooms. And, to complicate matters further, the files of, say, the 1st district court did not automatically end up after reorganisation with the 1st courtroom; the archives seem to have been divided up randomly among the 5 courtrooms, so whilst we usually start searching, say, in the files of the 2nd courtroom for an old divorce from the former 2nd district court, we know that if we don’t find it there, we are just as likely to locate the decree in the 1st, 3rd, 4th or 5th courtroom!

Photo of the Family Courthouse where many Santo Domingo divorces take place nowadays
Family Court building in Santo Domingo where we search for more recent Dominican divorce decrees
There are other divorce courts in Santo Domingo nowadays such as this Family Courthouse .

In the 3 months since the Dominican Republic’s legal system gradually started reopening following months of covid-19 lockdown, we've been to the Palace of Appeals building in Santo Domingo on several occasions to handle a backlog of Dominican divorce enquiries, so we can now comment on how it all works.

Standing- room only when searching for old divorce records in Santo Domingo
People searching for Dominican divorce decrees
Post Covid-19 initially no more than 10 visitors were allowed into the Palace of the Court of Appeals at any one time

Free access to the Santo Domingo divorce courts to search for Dominican divorce records is now possible again.

Dominican divorce dockets from only one of the five courtrooms for 1996
A bundle of Dominican divorce decrees from only 1 of the 5 civil courtrooms in Santo Domingo
An bundle of judgment dockets from only one of the 5 civil chambers from the year 1996

On entering the building, we can now go directly to the customer-service area of any of the 5 civil courtrooms and ask them to hand over the divorce decree ledger for any specific year. There is a small sitting area where we can make ourselves comfortable when leafing through the old ledgers and bundles of papers.

Photo of a bound volume of Dominican civil judgments from the 1st district civil court from 1974
A book of judgments from Santo Domingo
The 1st courtroom has this index of their 1974 judgments well organised and bound

For the purpose of this example, let's say we want to search for a divorce decree from the 2nd district court from January 1996. We ask them for their judgement ledger for 1996, and since the Santo Domingo courts insist that we do the searching, not their staff, we search.

It's not always a book that they hand us; it’s often a loose bundle of unorganized dog-eared sheets full of sometimes semi-illegible handwriting, often with parts of pages missing, in no specific chronological order. Each page might have the details of 15 to 20 judgments, sometimes judgments from January are mixed up with those of the following July and/or November. So even if we are searching for a judgment from January 1996, we may have to browse through the entire bundle! And if we don't find it in the 2nd courtroom's judgment book, then we must search in the archives of the 4 remaining courtrooms.

Photo of a man searching for his Dominican divorce records
Photo of man about to start a search for his Dominican divorce record in Santo Domingo
This gentleman about to search in this bundle of decrees for a judgment

This search for a decree can often take hours because there are hundreds of pages to read through, and sometimes one has to wait for the judgment “books” to be brought to us.

San Cristóbal quickie divorces
Palace of Justice in San Cristóbal where many quickie divorce decrees were granted
Lawyers in San Cristóbal carved out a niche for themselves in the 1980s and 1990s, specialising in quickie divorces. In the photo - San Cristobal Palace of Justice.

If we locate the decree, we alert the court attendant who asks us for a written request on the spot (known locally as an instancia), and asks for payment which must be in the form of adhesive stamps and a printed receipt in a specific amount, issued by the Dominican tax department which we have to have bought in advance.

The court files from long ago are housed in a separate unit in another part of town so it takes some days or weeks until we receive the decree from the court. Once we have the decree, we can then have it legalised and apostilled before shipping to our client.

If you would like to order your Dominican divorce certificate, Dominican divorce decree or any other documents from the Dominican Republic, order forms can be found on the links below:

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