National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Divorce and Separation Records

Divorce and Separation Records

This guide provides advice about finding records of divorce from 1563 to the present day and finding records of separation and other cases. There are separate pages about:

Finding Records of Divorce

The records of most divorces in Scotland which are over 100 years old are listed or indexed in some way and are relatively accessible. In Scotland a married woman traditionally retained her maiden name and in the indexes and records she may be designated as 'Mary Smith, wife of John Jamieson', or 'Mrs Mary Smith or Jamieson'.

The following is a summary guide to our records starting with modern records. Further information can be found in 'Tracing your Scottish ancestors: the official guide' (ourshop page has details of the latest edition).

  • 1984 to the present day

The Registrar General for Scotland has kept a Statutory Register of Divorces since 1 May 1984. The register is indexed and you can obtain a copy of an entry (known as an official extract from the registers). Please be aware that divorce records which are less than 100 years old are closed to public access and unavailable for searching on our Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC). For information about closed divorce records see the Special Points to Bear in Mind.

From 1 May 1984 the vast majority of divorce cases have been heard in sheriff courts rather than the Court of Session. Sheriff Court records are not transferred to us until they are at least 25 years old. As a result we recommend that you contact us in advance of any visit to check whether we hold the case papers or whether they are still held by the sheriff clerk.

If a divorce was heard in the Court of Session, the papers remain with the Court for up to six years after the conclusion of the case (or longer for those involving children as they are usually retained until the youngest child reaches the age of 16).

  • 1830/5-1984

Individual divorce cases which are less than 100 years old are not listed in our catalogue.

Before 1922 almost all divorces are listed on our catalogue with the exception of several decades of extracted cases covering the 1840s through to the mid 1870s. For divorces recorded in these years, the printed general minute books of the Court of Session (CS17/1) lead to card indexes to the cases.

  • 1801-1830/5

The index to persons (CC8/6/176) and the fuller case lists (CC8/20/6) allow a search for a case in the decreets (CC8/5) and processes (CC8/6).

  • 1563-1800

A list of divorce and other cases can be found in 'The Commissariot of Edinburgh - Consistorial Processes and Decreets, 1658-1800' edited by Francis J Grant (Scottish Record Society, 1909). It is indexed only by pursuer. The references and dates of cases refer to the relevant volume of decreets, that is, judicial decisions (CC8/5), and/or the case papers (CC8/6). A few case papers from 1580 and 1624 are unindexed (CC8/6/1).

Finding Records of Separation and Other Cases

Before cruelty became a ground for divorce in 1938, judicial separation was one of the main legal remedies. Separation has continued to be resorted to by those with religious objections to divorce. Separation cases before 1907 can be found in the same way as divorce cases in the records of the Court of Session (CS). After 1907 the sheriff courts heard separation cases, and the records may be found among the civil court processes and the registers of extract decrees (SC), which are generally unindexed. Since the nineteenth century other legal proceedings, such as actions for aliment (the support or maintenance of the spouse and or children), were heard in sheriff courts, since these actions concern debt, not personal status. From 1907 the sheriff courts also heard cases of separation and aliment, adherence and aliment, and custody of children.

Special Points to Bear in Mind

Divorce records from Scottish Courts (Court of Session and Sheriff Courts) which are less than 100 years old were closed in 2017 because they contain personal information relating to living individuals.

For further information on the closure of records please visit the NRS reclosure policy pages.

If you require confirmation NRS hold an individual divorce which is closed then please us the contact form to make a request. If you wish to access closed divorce records whilst the closure is current then please see the Freedom of Information (FOI) section.