Are Divorce Records Public?

Are Divorce Records Public?

In today’s hyperconnected world, we all have privacy concerns. It seems like every website, every purchase, and every conversation is being monitored on the internet.  Netflix recently released a documentary about the Ashley Madison hacking scandal. For those living under a rock, Ashley Madison is an online website for married customers seeking an affair. The tag line of the company is “life is short, have an affair.”  The business promised discretion to its over 5 million international users. In 2015, there was a massive security breach and some of Ashley Madison’s users’ private information was leaked to the public. This included customers’ names, home addresses, credit card transactions and even search history. Undoubtedly,  the internet’s global and pervasive reach has changed society. Privacy mechanisms are more important now than ever before. Corporations have invested significant revenue and hired personnel to create entire departments focusing on privacy issues. Let’s be real: nobody wants the details of their private life to be consumed by the public.

This begs a necessary question for parties undergoing a divorce action —- are divorce records public? And if yes, who can access the divorce documents?

The short answer is yes: divorce records are public. Each state and locality has different rules. So, always check with an experienced divorce attorney who specializes in the sealing of records in your jurisdiction.

How accessible are these records? You can usually type a person’s name into a search engine and browse a specific state and county’s electronic court filing system to ascertain whether there is a divorce action pending for a particular person, what the index number of the case is, view when that action was commenced, see who the judge is presiding over the case, view a list of the types of documents that have been filed in the action, and access the Certificate of Dissolution from the marriage.

Some states do more to protect litigants’ privacy than others. For example in New York, most of the underlying, substantive matrimonial documents are sealed when filed. The documents contained in the electronic file (eg. the pleadings, court orders, motions, exhibits, statements of net worth, tax returns, and other financial documents and stipulations of the settlement are private and not for public consumption.) In New York, the only individuals who are able to access these records are the litigants, their attorneys, and others in possession of a court order permitting access to the divorce records. However, like everything else in the law, there are exceptions to this. For example, if there is another court action pending on an entirely different matter involving the litigants in the matrimonial action and information in the file may be pertinent to the other case, it can become available. (Think personal injury case or employment matter.)

Read “How Long Does It Take to Get Over a Divorce? And 4 Signs You are On Your Way.”

How Do I Prevent My Divorce Records from Becoming a Public Record?

In most states, if you do not want your name to appear in a divorce action you can file a motion to have an “Anonymous v. anonymous” caption. In your motion, you will need to submit a detailed affidavit to the court citing the reasons why you have “good cause” for the records to be made private.

Some examples of “good cause” include that the circumstances pertaining to your divorce could harm your reputation, your privacy, your continued employment or future employment prospects.

If the facts are likely to result in significant damage to yourself and to your family, you may have a compelling reason to keep the information out of the public domain. The court must approve these requests. They are based on the discretion of the judge assigned to your specific case.  The party filing the motion may also request that the entire case file be “under seal” and not accessible to the public.  In order to determine whether a seal on a case file should be granted, the judge must weigh the legitimate privacy rights of the parties versus the public’s rights to transparency.

Typically, divorce records would be sealed to protect the identification of the parties’ children and private information about the children, allegations involving the potential abuse of children, protecting victims of domestic violence, and/or protecting proprietary business information. Keep in mind that even when divorce records are public, they will usually contain necessary redactions to avoid the exposure of personally identifying information such as the names of children, bank account numbers, and social security numbers. That information will not be made viewable.

Consider reading “Your 55 Must-Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist.”

In cases where the parties are unable to settle and there is a decision after trial, that decision may be published but is not always published. If an appeal from the trial decision is made, decisions on appeals are published in a state’s appellate level legal court reporter. They become public records and almost all appellate-level decisions are searchable on the internet. They help set precedents in various jurisdictions. Sometimes, they even become viral with many news outlets “picking up” the coverage. For example, the legal beat reporter at the New York Post has published a bevy of articles involving many divorce litigants who have particularly  interesting cases or those cases involving horrific facts. The stories may be sensationalized and can be highly embarrassing. People have lost their jobs over how they have conducted themselves during court appearances and trial proceedings. Some have even lost professional licenses. That is why it is important to never behave in a way that will embarrass yourself or your family.

Who is Usually Able to Secure a Sealing of a Divorce Record?

Usually, celebrities and very wealthy business executives (think Fortune 500 CEOs or founders of influential start-ups) are the lucky recipients of an anonymous v. anonymous caption to prevent the media or public from knowing the sordid details and intricate financial aspects of their divorce.

Consider reading “What are the No-Fault Divorce States in the US?”

If I am Unsuccessful with Sealing My Divorce Records from the Public, What Should I Do to Minimize the Likelihood of Future Harm to Myself and My Family?

This is an important question that most litigants and attorneys do not discuss when a matrimonial action starts but it is of paramount importance. The best way to ensure privacy and confidentiality is to avoid court. You will want to aim for an uncontested divorce, or  explore options for mediation or alternative dispute resolution. That way, you can avoid the risk of going to court in the first place. This prevents a trial decision from being written by a judge, and potentially, being made public.  Many times, the knowledge of a potential trial decision being made public is a compelling reason for the litigants to settle their case.

When divorces deal with high-net worth individuals, are highly contentious, or the facts involving the parties are particularly egregious or interesting, the more likely the parties should want to settle. Unfortunately, all to frequently contentious and bitter litigants first rush right to the courthouse with a blatant disregard for the potential impact that decision could have on the entire family and their future livelihoods.

Your conduct matters during matrimonial proceedings.

You should always consider whether you would want your personal details (allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, fraud, adultery, terminations of past employment & health issues) to be made public. Although it can be challenging when dealing with highly emotional proceedings, always remember to try and appear calm even if you feel very anxious and angry. Be respectful to the court, opposing counsel, the adverse party, and all court personnel.



Meredith L. Singer is an experienced NYC family law attorney who recently started up her own practice. She is a zealous advocate for her clients and strives to keep legal representation affordable and accessible. For additional information, visit her website at:


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*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”



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