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Posted on April 8, 2024

Is a Divorce Public Record?

People often worry about the accessibility of the records of their divorce proceedings. The question of whether divorces are public records does not have a one-size-fits-all answer, as the laws regarding the privacy of these records can vary greatly by jurisdiction. Parties involved in a divorce need to understand how these laws might affect the confidentiality of their divorce proceedings.

If you’re facing a divorce in New York and are uncertain about how your records will be handled, it’s crucial to consult with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer. At The Law Office of Richard Roman Shum, our team of Manhattan divorce lawyers may be able to guide you and help ensure that your privacy is protected throughout the process. For personalized advice and to understand your rights, call us today at (646) 259-3416 to schedule a consultation.

What are Divorce Records?

The phrase “divorce record” encompasses various forms of paperwork associated with the dissolution of a marriage. Knowing the specifics of what each type of record contains is crucial for those aiming to maintain their privacy to the greatest extent possible.

Different documents commonly recognized as “divorce records” include:

  • Divorce Certificates: Issued by the state’s vital records office or health department, a divorce certificate is a formal document that summarizes the dissolution of a marriage. It includes only basic information such as the names of the divorcing parties, the location of the court where the divorce was granted, and the date it was made official. Individuals typically need a divorce certificate to confirm someone’s divorce status or to provide legal proof of their divorce.
  • Divorce Decrees: This is the official court order that concludes the divorce proceedings. The content of a divorce decree can vary significantly. Some decrees are comprehensive, outlining detailed arrangements regarding asset division, alimony, child custody, and support. Others are more succinct, listing only the involved parties and referring to separate agreements that dictate the terms of the divorce.
  • Divorce Court Records: These records represent the most exhaustive category, comprising the full suite of filings and documents in a divorce case, as well as transcripts and recordings of the court sessions. Divorce court records are a treasure trove of information, potentially revealing financial data, childcare arrangements, grounds for the divorce, and other personal details of the individuals involved.
Divorce Records Description
Divorce Certificate A formal document issued by the state’s vital records office, summarizing the dissolution of a marriage. Includes names, court location, and official date.
Divorce Decree The official court order concluding the divorce proceedings. Content varies, from detailed arrangements (asset division, custody) to succinct listings.
Divorce Court Records Comprehensive records including all filings, documents, transcripts, and recordings in a divorce case. Reveals financial data, arrangements, and personal details.

The Confidentiality of Divorce Records in New York

Unlike some jurisdictions where divorce records may be considered public information, New York treats these documents with a high degree of confidentiality. In New York, divorce records are sealed and are not available to the public. This means that the personal and often sensitive information contained within the divorce proceedings is protected from public scrutiny. The court is also allowed to redact sensitive information such as personal information or addresses of the individuals involved in the case. The sealing of these records is in place to preserve the privacy of the individuals involved, especially when sensitive allegations such as abuse, infidelity, or mental health issues are part of the court documents.

Who Has Access to Divorce Records in New York?

In New York, the accessibility of divorce records is highly regulated to respect the privacy of the individuals involved. As such, the ability to acquire these records is limited to a select group. The primary individuals who can request and receive a copy of a divorce record include:

  • The parties who were formerly married to each other.
  • The legal representatives of the divorced individuals.
  • Any individual granted a court order from the State of New York.

Obtaining a court order to access someone else’s divorce records necessitates a valid, legal reason, as the court must be persuaded that a significant interest justifies such access. For instance, divorce details might be sought for cases that hinge on marital history, such as inheritance disputes or related court proceedings.

Circumstances for Unsealing Divorce Records

In certain exceptional situations, a court may decide to unseal divorce records or specific parts thereof. A notable instance is when a party requires the records for concurrent unrelated legal actions, where the court allows access to parts of the divorce records for use in a separate case.

It’s important to note that the sealing of a divorce decree does not obscure the case’s existence from public record searches. Unless specifically requested by legal counsel to maintain the confidentiality of the parties’ names, the fact that a divorce has occurred is publicly accessible, although the details of the proceedings might remain private.

Additionally, if there are court decisions on motions within the divorce case, these may be published and accessible. This extends to higher levels of the judicial process; should the divorce case be appealed, the appellate court’s findings and opinions are typically published.

How Do I Get Divorce Records In New York?

Navigating the process of obtaining divorce records in New York can be a straightforward task with the right information at hand. Below is an essential guide that outlines the steps and requirements for accessing both divorce decrees and certificates in the state.

Locating Divorce Judgments or Decrees

To retrieve certified copies of divorce judgments or decrees, you need to contact the County Clerk’s office where the divorce was finalized or the County Clerk in the county where the petitioner for the divorce resides. In many cases, the County Clerk’s office is situated in the same facility as the Supreme Court within the county. If the offices are separate, instructions to locate the County Clerk can be obtained from the Supreme Court clerk.

Certified Copies of Divorce Decrees

To obtain a certified copy of a divorce decree, you may either visit the County Clerk’s office personally or send a mail request. Access to these documents is restricted to the divorced parties, their legal counsel, or individuals with a specific court order. Attorneys must place their requests on the official letterhead of their company. 

The New York State Supreme Court directory provides the necessary contact details for supreme courts and county clerks across the counties. There is a fee for obtaining certified copies, usually starting at $1.30 for copying costs and $8 for certification, but the County Clerk’s office will provide the exact fee structure.

Requesting Divorce Certificates

Divorce certificates are maintained by the Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Records and can be requested through several methods:

  • Online or by phone: Quick and convenient access is often available through third-party websites that operate in partnership with the Department of Health.
  • By mail: Applicants must complete the necessary form and include copies of their identification, along with payment via postal money orders, personal checks, or certified checks made payable to the New York State Department of Health. Cash is not accepted for mail requests.
  • In-person: When requesting in person, the fee is $45, and you can pay with cash, money orders, or checks. Debit or credit card payments are not accepted.

Identification Requirements

Divorce certificates are classified as confidential. As such, only individuals directly involved in the divorce or those who possess a court order are permitted to request these documents. Valid identification must accompany all requests, which could include a driver’s license, state-issued photo ID, military ID, passport, or other official documents that verify the applicant’s name and address.

Availability of Records

The New York State Department of Health stores divorce certificates for divorces granted on or after January 1, 1963. For divorces that occurred before this date, only divorce decrees are available.

New York divorce records are not publicly accessible, reflecting the state’s commitment to the privacy of individuals during these often sensitive times. The confidentiality of these records ensures that the personal details and hardships experienced during the dissolution of a marriage are shielded from public scrutiny, providing a level of dignity and discretion to the involved parties.

If you are navigating through the complexities of divorce in Manhattan and have concerns about keeping your divorce records discreet, it’s crucial to have experienced legal guidance. At The Law Office of Richard Roman Shum, attorney Richard Roman Shum and our team of Manhattan divorce lawyers can offer you tailored advice and support needed to protect your privacy rights effectively. For personalized assistance and to ensure your divorce is handled with the utmost confidentiality, contact us today at (646) 259-3416 to schedule a consultation.

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