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 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' (our shop 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).  From this date, 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). Those transmitted to us are listed in our catalogue and can be found by searching for either party involved in the action.

  • 1830/5-1984

From 1935 to 1984, individual divorce cases are listed in our catalogue and can be found by searching for either party involved in the action.

From 1830/5 to 1934, the printed general minute books of the court (CS17/1) lead to card indexes and bound indexes to the cases. Case papers can be either 'extracted' or 'unextracted' processes. For extracted processes the judge's verdict can be found in the Register of Acts and Decreets (CS45), using the last date for a case in the minute book.

If children are involved in a divorce, the case papers are normally transferred to us only when the youngest has reached the age of 16 - you may have to search through the indexes on this basis. Sometimes the letter 'R' is used alongside entries to show that case papers were 'Retained', while in others the eventual year of transmission is shown in round brackets. Many of the cases involving children are extracted processes.

  • 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

We will only search for a case for which the year, the name of the pursuer, and preferably also of the defender, are provided. We will not make speculative searches of the indexes on the basis of vague information.

If you only know the name of the defender, remember that as some indexes only list pursuers, you will need to make a speculative search in person or by proxy.