Are family cases records public?


Litigation almost always involves confidential information that can be confidential and personal to all parties involved.

The idea that someone can look up your name and find out all the details of a legal dispute related to you confuses most people.

Under the First Amendment, most litigation is a public matter and case files are in the public domain.

The purpose of publicly available court records is to help citizens hold the government and other organizations responsible for their actions, help citizens make courts accountable and try to ensure the absence of corruption in the courts.

In cases of negligent and dishonest court behavior public records can be an effective way to expose such behavior and bring the responsible to justice.

Family law records are public documents subject to public viewing and copying unless they are legally confidential or sealed by a court.


Where are public documents kept?

Before the advent of the Internet, court documents were kept only as written public records, and were kept in the courthouse.

Currently, you can simply use government databases to search for court documents and read them.

How to Seal Court Documents?

While most court records are public, they may be kept under seal and become confidential information if there is a reason to do so.

A sealed document is a document that is protected from public access.

In order not to make a public record publicly available, the parties involved in the case must ask the judge to seal the document by filing a motion.

A motion is a formal request to a judge.

In the motion, you must explain to the judge that you have serious concerns about the privacy of your data and personal information that outweigh any public interest in access to these records. If the motion is granted, the judge may order the sealing of the entire court file or a single document.

There are a number of court documents that are confidential information by default and that are automatically sealed by the court and no one has to file a special motion to keep these records confidential. Such documents are associated with the following circumstances: 

  • Adoption;
  • Records of alcohol and drug use;
  • Mental illness records;
  • Confidential name changes;
  • Paternity cases;
  • Any records sealed by judge's decision;
  • Records of non-delinquent juveniles (addiction, truancy, youth at risk, child in need of services, parental termination, and special need children).

What personal identifiers are not in public access?

Personal identifiers that are not publicly available in family law litigation: 

  • social security number;
  • driver's license number;
  • phone number;
  • financial accounts numbers;
  • your child's social security number;
  • date of birth of your child;

Also, the following Family Court records are not publicly available: 

  • confidential information form;
  • form of acts of civil status;
  • information form of law enforcement agencies;
  • information form of the warrant for the protection of foreign states;
  • information form about domestic violence;
  • personal information sheets required for the Judicial Information System;
  • notice of intent to move;
  • sealed financial primary documents;
  • sealed personal medical records;
  • sealed pension plan order;
  • sealed confidential reports;

How are documents sealed?

When a particular court document is sealed, it is removed from the court file and a placeholder sheet is inserted showing that the document is sealed.

In case information from a court document is edited, the original document is removed from the court file and protected from public access. Then a copy of the document with blackened or erased private information is attached to the court case.

Are family court records public in New York?

New York's privacy laws are among the strictest in the country.

Court records of trials in New York Family Court are confidential for the public, but there are exceptions where the court may allow access to the records.

All information about the lawsuit in the family case is sealed.

The officer in charge of the family proceeding does not authorize the copying of any pleadings, affidavits, resolution of dissolution, written agreements or memorandums, etc.

By contacting the county clerk's office and making a formal request, attorneys officially registered to represent a party to the case may access these documents. Attorneys not named in the case who wish to receive copies of these records must provide a signed letter to the county clerk with an explicit permission of the plaintiff or defendant.

If persons directly involved in the case wish to receive a copy of the court order, they must request a copy from the registration room of the court building where the case was heard.

founderYelena Sharova, Principal Counsel and Founder of the Sharova Law Firm in New York City, based on years of experience as a trial lawyer, commented on the most common reasons people ask a judge to seal a document: “First of all, people want to protect their personal information. No American will like it if their personal information gets into the public domain. But in order to seal your personal information you need good reasons, which often simply do not exist. Also, very often, it happens that the participants in the trial want to be completely sure that information about the SSN and bank account numbers will definitely not be accidentally made public and prudently ask for the sealing of this information. Also, a common reason for requests to seal documents is the fear that other people may find false information that is not true and is the result of making false accusations in a lawsuit that the parties can use against each other to damage their reputation».

Sharova Law Firm has assembled a team of professional family law attorneys who regularly participate in litigation and are ready to take your part in any complex and delicate case.

Sharova Law Firm is ready to assist you at any time convenient for you and advise on all necessary issues.

Contact phone number:212-321-0741



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