Ask the Attorney: What Becomes Public Record After a Divorce in Long Island?

By Michael DiFalco

The first no-fault divorce law was signed by California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969. Governor Reagan’s hope in doing so was to eliminate some of the shame and heated court battles that often accompanied divorces in which one party had to prove fault in order to end the marriage.

Over fifty years later, though, the societal shame and stigma associated with divorce have not totally disappeared. A recent Gallup poll suggests that as many as three out of every four Americans believe divorce is morally acceptable. Nonetheless, there still remains a fraction of society that believes divorce is not acceptable and judges those who divorce their partners.

Whether for religious or personal reasons, you may be hesitant about divorcing for fear of what family, friends, or your religious community might think. At least in New York, you have some protections against the details of your marital split becoming public knowledge.

Court Records Are Generally Public 

When you or your partner file for divorce, you may worry that intimate details of your family life may be laid bare for the community to see. This concern is not unreasonable because, after all, in general, court records and documents are public and can be accessed by any adult.

For example, a lawsuit involving a personal injury case will be completely public where anyone can review the complaint and other motions and papers filed, though not always the full settlement details.

In some circumstances, in a divorce case the court can approve a request to make the records “anonymous” meaning your name is not connected to the filing–this is common for celebrities or public officials. 

Divorce Documents Are Treated Differently in New York

Despite the general rule that court records and documents filed are public records, New York law treats the documents filed in a divorce differently. 

In divorce cases, the pleadings, motions, decrees, and other documents filed in the case are not public records. They cannot be accessed by anyone other than you, your ex, and your respective attorneys. Members of the public do not have access to these filings. They may see you filed for divorce, but they cannot see the details of any of the submissions to protect your privacy.

Certain Information May Still Be Publicly Visible

The documents in your divorce proceeding, including the Judgment of Divorce, are not matters of public record, but certain other information might be. By searching the State’s public database of Supreme Court cases, a person could learn if you were ever party to a divorce, and if so:

  • The name of the presiding judge
  • The other party’s name and any attorneys who entered their appearance in the case
  • A history of court appearances and the outcome of those appearances
  • A list of motions that were filed in the case and the disposition of those motions

So while New York law does not permit non-parties in a divorce case to get access to the actual documents filed in that case, there is still general information that may be public. 

For example, suppose your ex files a motion seeking child custody because they allege you abuse drugs and alcohol. A court hearing will be held to determine whether to grant or deny that motion. 

The fact that there was a hearing may be publicly available, but the nature of the allegations, as well as the actual motion and evidence filed by your ex and any response you filed, would not be accessible to the public.

Get Answers from an Experienced New York Divorce Attorney

Your Garden City, New York, divorce lawyers at Aiello & DiFalco have years of successful experience handling divorces involving various circumstances and concerns. Do not let fear keep you from taking the necessary steps to protect yourself, your children, and your future. 

If a divorce is necessary, but you are concerned about it becoming public knowledge, we will devote our efforts to securing one for you as quickly and discreetly as possible. 

About the Author
I am a partner at Aiello & DiFalco LLP, and my priority for my clients is to guide them through an arduous court case to provide them with the opportunity to write the next chapter in their life. I tailor my approach to each client’s priorities and positions, and to the extent that matters can be predicted, I will always provide a realistic perspective of how the law could be applied to the particular facts and circumstances of a case. Since I thrive on helping people and solving problems, I bring an optimistic and positive approach to practicing in a very difficult area of law. With more than a decade of experience handling hundreds of cases, I have the ability to get results on the issues my clients view as priorities. When cases or certain issues cannot be settled, I have a solid record of success at trials, hearings, and on appeals. Feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation, I am always available to help.