How to Find a Divorce Record in New York
Divorce, commonly referred to as dissolution of marriage, occurs when two married people file divorce papers to reverse, annul, or otherwise repeal their union. In New York, the divorce court (i.e., the supreme court) records a marriage dissolution in three ways. An example is by a divorce decree. Being aware of the differences between the three types can save time when attempting to obtain dissolution of marriage records.
Divorce records are considered court records. They may therefore be searched on third party public record websites. Divorce records can offer personal information on minors, finances, and sensitive criminal information like domestic abuse. Because of this, divorce record, certificate, and decree availability is usually much lower than other types of public records because of the personal nature of divorces. Simply put, divorce records are significantly harder to obtain and search for than other types of public records.
What is a New York Divorce Certificate?
In the State of New York, divorce certificates are the most frequently requested of the three types of records and contain the least information. A divorce certificate contains general facts about the divorce agreement, such as the names of the parties who filed the original divorce papers and the date of the divorce. A divorce certificate is filed with the New York State Department of Health (NYSDH) and is usually requested when one of the divorced parties wants to obtain a new marriage certificate or change their name. In New York, this divorce document can only be purchased by the parties or lawyers involved.
What is a New York Divorce Decree?
New York state divorce decrees are sealed documents that contain all of the information included in a divorce certificate, plus the court's final judgment. Generally, a divorce decree serves the purpose of stating the rights and responsibilities of the parties who filed divorce papers. This includes spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation schedules, division of property, life and health insurance obligations, and how the parties will divide debt or future payments. Most often, a divorce decree is requested by the case parties (i.e., the person who filed the divorce petition or the respondent) when they wish to review or make changes to it. Either ex-spouse or anyone with a New York State Court Order can purchase a divorce decree from a New York court clerk. Usually, a qualified applicant must request the record in person or via mail. The clerks hardly provide a means to obtain a New York divorce decree online.
What is a New York Divorce Record?
A New York state divorce record includes more information than a divorce certificate and a divorce decree. Essentially, a divorce record is the case file for a divorce case. This dissolution of marriage record contains all of the information mentioned above, as well as all general divorce case documents, including testimonies, evidence, transcripts of proceedings, and judgments, decided at the end of the case. Information about the parties who submitted divorce papers in New York is also available in a divorce record, including names, dates of birth, and addresses. Divorce records are more publicly available than divorce certificates and decrees. They can be searched for and obtained the same as other types of publicly available records. When searching for a divorce record through official government sources, specific identification and fees will be required from the requester.
Are New York Divorce Records Public?
New York divorce records are not available from family courts, although they fall under the New York Family Court Act, Section 166, which determines public access to family law records. These are provided by the Supreme Court and maintained by the New York Department of Health or certain county clerk’s offices. To find divorce records, visit the office or online website of the county in which the divorce was finalized. The NYSDH also provides copies of divorce certificates upon request. The agency’s marriage dissolution records date from 1963 to the present. The Department of Health only releases divorce certificates to the parties involved in the case. A third party may obtain this divorce document by presenting a New York State Court Order. Restricted and sealed Family Court records include pleadings, findings, orders, decisions, transcripts, and documents filed during proceedings. Those permitted access to these records include:
- Parties involved in the family law case described in the documents, and their attorneys
- Parents, guardians, and individuals legally allowed to care for a child as well as their attorneys
- Representatives of the child protective service involved in a family law case
- Authorized representatives or volunteers of a court-appointed advocate program assisting in a child’s case
- Representatives of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct
New York Family Courts can redact sections of their records before making them available. Commonly redacted records include addresses of children involved in family law cases.
Find Public Divorce Records Online
New York divorce records are confidential records. Thus, only eligible parties (a divorced spouse, their attorney, or a person with a New York state court order) can obtain these records online. The online portal for accessing divorce documents in New York is the New York State Department of Health online platform. This platform provides records of divorce case files in all 62 counties of New York. The information required to obtain a copy of a divorce record online includes:
- A $30 fee payable by credit card only
- A $15 fee for priority handling
- An $8 vendor processing fee (charged for each copy ordered)
- A valid photo ID or copy of one
- Proof of address or copy of one
Acceptable photo IDs include a driver’s license, state-issued identification card, military photo identification, or passport. Proof of address may include a utility bill, telephone bill, or letter from a government agency.
Should accessing or finding a record prove difficult, third-party websites can help to locate the marriage dissolution record in question. Note that records obtained this way are not considered official or certified, and record availability may vary from government sources.
Do New York Family Courts Seal Divorce Records?
New York State divorce records are sealed by default. These sealed records include pleadings and confidential records such as financial documents. Only the parties involved can access and obtain purchased copies of a divorce record.
How to Access New York Divorce Records In Person or by Mail
To request divorce records in New York in person, individuals can visit the Clerk of the Court in the courthouse that heard the case. In some New York counties, these records are available from the Office of the County Clerk. If this option is unavailable in a specific county, divorce records (i.e., the certificates) may be requested and gathered at any valid New York Department of Health location. When performing an in-person search for divorce records in New York, the only fee that does not apply is the $15 handling fee.
To order divorce certificates through the mail, individuals can download the form on the NYSDH website and send it via mail to the address listed. Be sure to include any necessary fees in the form of a check, money order, or other acceptable forms of payment.
Requests for divorce court records should contain:
- The case index number
- The type of record sought
- The record filing date
- The names of the parties involved
Each request must be specific and describe the divorce documents wanted. The request should also use case and document reference numbers consistent with the court’s indexing and record retrieval system. Generally, a person should provide as much information as possible when seeking a specific divorce record. This way, the clerk’s office can offer the correct documents in a timely manner.
Government public record search portals and third party public record websites both may provide court records search tools, which can help find divorce records, though record availability usually varies widely. Divorce records, in particular, may simply not be available through either source.
Divorce Rate in New York
New York's divorce rate has been steadily declining in recent years. In 2016, the state had a divorce rate of 2.9 per 1,000 inhabitants, compared to the national rate of 2.2 per 1,000 people. However, by 2020, this figure had decreased to 1.8 per 1,000 persons.
Records of divorce in New York and state-wide statistics are curated by the New York State Department of Health. The Office of Vital Records maintains records of births, marriages, divorces, and deaths that occur in the state of New York.
Persons interested in obtaining a copy of their divorce record or learning more about New York's divorce statistics can visit the Department of Health's website or contact them directly at (518) 474-3077.
Does New York Recognize Common-Law Marriages?
The State of New York does not recognize Common-Law Marriages. Since 1933, the state has prohibited such unions. However, New York accepts common law weddings as legitimate if they occur in states where such marriages are legal and valid. By acknowledging common-law unions formed in other states, New York implements and enforces the “full faith and credit” provision of the United States Constitution, which states that states must accept the legal decisions of other states, including marriages. Thus, if someone who has a common law marriage in one of the ten states that accept such marriages as legal moves to New York, the State would recognize that marriage as lawful.
How to Get a Divorce in New York
Any person who wants to get a divorce in New York must note a divorce case can be contested and uncontested. A contested divorce happens when the spouses argue on at least one aspect of the divorce. For example, child custody. Meanwhile, an uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all divorce-related matters. Either divorce type requires a petitioner (the filing spouse) to satisfy the state's residency requirement and have a legal ground for the divorce.
New York's residency statute, codified in Section 230 of the Domestic Relations Law, mandates all divorce petitioners or their spouses to meet the following conditions before they can get a divorce in New York:
Have lived in New York State continually for at least two years before filing for divorce;
Have lived in New York State continually for at least a year before filing for divorce and either:
got married in New York
lived in New York as a married couple, or
had the grounds for their divorce occur in New York;
Are New York residents when the divorce case starts, and the grounds for their divorce occurred in New York
Petitioners must also have one of New York's grounds for divorce. There are seven legally acceptable reasons for divorce identified in Domestic Relations Law §170, separated into fault and no-fault grounds:
Irretrievable breakdown in relationship for a duration of at least six months (otherwise known as the "no-fault divorce")
Cruel and inhuman treatment
Living separate and apart after a separation agreement
Living separate and apart after a separation judgment or decree
Those who meet the above criteria can file original divorce papers (plus applicable fees) with the Supreme Court through the county clerk's office. According to the New York state court system, an uncontested divorce can cost a petitioner at least $335 in court and filing fees, excluding legal, notary, services, and other relevant expenses. Given that contested cases require several court appearances to decide related issues, the total costs may be higher.
Notably, individuals filing for an uncontested divorce in New York can find court forms online or at the clerk's office and finalize their divorce agreement without an attorney's help. The state court system provides several comprehensive resources, filing instructions, and county-specific divorce information to assist pro-se divorce litigants. Forms that an uncontested divorce petitioner must file with the county clerk include:
- Summons With Notice or Summons and Complaint
- Notice of Automatic Orders
- Notice Concerning Continuation of Health Care Coverage
- Settlement Agreement, if any
After filing, the petitioner must serve their spouse (the respondent/defendant) with divorce papers within 120 days and wait 20 or 30 days from the service date for a response, depending on the spouse's residential status. (In-state defendants have 20 days to respond and out-of-state defendants have 30 days.)
The defendant's response determines how the case proceeds. If the defendant responds by signing and returning an Affidavit of Defendant (one of the documents served on the defendant), it means the case is uncontested and will be added to the court calendar to be determined by a judge after the petitioner files the required divorce papers. If the defendant submits a Notice of Appearance, it is a contested case that often requires legal assistance. However, if the defendant takes no action within the approved timeline, the court recognizes the case as uncontested and may issue a default judgment in favor of the petitioner.