Traditionally, when civil cases reach the stage of litigation, court records become public. However, this is not the case in New York when it comes to records of family legal matters, including divorce, child custody, alimony, and other similar issues. There may occasionally be exceptions to the rule though, so it’s important to understand the law regarding the confidentiality of your divorce records in New York.
Domestic Relations Law Pertaining to Divorce Records in New York
The laws pertaining to divorce records in New York are some of the strictest in the nation. The state does more than most others to protect the confidentiality of family legal matters, particularly the details of what happened or what decisions the couple reached or a judge made on their behalf. Let’s explore Domestic Relations Article 13, the statute that protects divorce decrees from the public eye.
DOM – Domestic Relations Article 13 – Provisions Applicable to More Than One Type of Matrimonial Action 235 – Information as to Details of Matrimonial Actions or Proceedings
An officer of the court with whom the proceedings in a matrimonial action or a written agreement of separation or an action or proceeding for custody, visitation or maintenance of a child are filed, or before whom the testimony is taken, or his clerk, either before or after the termination of the suit, shall not permit a copy of any of the pleadings, affidavits, findings of fact, conclusions of law, judgment of dissolution, written agreement of separation or memorandum thereof, or testimony, or any examination or perusal thereof, to be taken by any other person than a party, or the attorney or counsel of a party, except by order of the court.
Who Has Access to Divorce Records in New York?
Essentially, the above means that without a court order, the only way divorce records in New York can be accessed is by either spouse involved in the divorce, or their legal representative(s). The finalized divorce settlement is sealed for 100 years, and cannot be accessed by any other party. If an attorney who is not listed on the divorce settlement as a legal representative wishes to access divorce records in New York, they must make a written request filed with the County Clerk’s office in their jurisdiction. The request must include permission from either spouse to access copies of the divorce settlement and supporting documents.
Potential Exceptions to Laws Protecting New York Divorce Records
One thing that is not kept confidential about a divorce in New York is the names of the parties who are dissolving their marriage. These records are public and can be searched; anyone can find that you and your spouse did, in fact, get a divorce. An attorney can request that you and your spouse’s names be withheld, but this is not a guarantee that all of your divorce information will remain private.
Exceptions to the rule are if you are involved in another civil or criminal case to which the divorce is applicable, a family court may rule to unseal some or all of the records for the purpose of providing evidence. If there are certain motions made in the case, the court may choose to make these public. In the event that your divorce case proceeds to appellate court, typically those decisions are published.
How to Keep Your Divorce Confidential
The best way to protect your privacy during a divorce is to explore alternatives that don’t involve court or litigation. For example, mediation or arbitration may be good ways to reach an agreement and finalize your divorce without having to go through divorce court. This is particularly true if you have a high net worth or especially contentious divorce. High profile divorces can easily become a media frenzy, even when New York laws keep most of the details under wraps.
When to Contact a New York Divorce Lawyer
If you are thinking about divorcing your spouse, or your spouse has told you they want to get a divorce, you should reach out to a New York divorce lawyer to learn about your legal options. This is especially important if your spouse has already had you served with divorce papers.
Heidi Opinsky is a veteran New York divorce attorney who can provide you with comprehensive legal support before, during, and after the dissolution of your marriage. Attorney Opinsky will meet with you one on one to discuss the details of your case and to strategize a plan of action that protects your legal rights and your family’s best interests. Call today to schedule your consultation by dialing 203-653-3542.