April 7, 1998
Mr. Raymond Ring
24 Fessler Drive
Spring Valley, NY 10977
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue
advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the
information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Ring:
I have received today a letter from Attorney General Dennis Vacco,
as well as the content of an E-mail message that you sent to him. He has
asked that I respond.
The Committee on Open Government, a unit of the Department of
State, is authorized to provide advice and guidance concerning public access
to government records, primarily under the Freedom of Information Law.
According to the material forwarded by the Attorney General, you
asked whether divorce petitions filed in New York State courts are available
to the public.
In this regard, the Freedom of Information Law pertains to agency
records, and §86(3) of that statute defines the term "agency" to include:
"any state or municipal department, board,
bureau, division, commission, committee,
public authority, public corporation, council,
office or other governmental entity performing
a governmental or proprietary function for the
state or any one or more municipalities
thereof, except the judiciary or the state
In turn, §86(1) defines the term "judiciary" to mean:
"the courts of the state, including any
municipal or district court, whether or not of
As such, the Freedom of Information Law does not apply to the courts or
Frequently, court records are available under other provisions of law.
However, in this instance, the kinds of records in which you are interested
must generally be shielded from the public.
Access to records relating to matrimonial proceedings is governed by
§235(1) of the Domestic Relations Law, which states that:
"An officer of the court with whom the
proceedings in a matrimonial action or a
written statement of separation or an action or
proceeding for custody, visitation or
maintenance of a child are filed, or before
whom the testimony is taken, or his clerk,
either before or after the termination of the
suit, shall not permit a copy of any of the
pleadings, affidavits, findings of act,
conclusions of law, judgment of dissolution,
written agreement of separation or
memorandum thereof, or testimony, or any
examination of perusal thereof, to be taken by
any other person than a party, or the attorney
or counsel of a party, except by order of the
Based on the foregoing, as a general matter, the details of a matrimonial
proceeding are considered confidential.
However, subdivision (3) of §235 states that:
"Upon the application of any person to the
county clerk or other officer in charge of
public records within a county for evidence of
the disposition, judgment or order with respect
to a matrimonial action, the clerk or other such
officer shall issue a ‘certification of
disposition', duly certifying the nature and
effect of such disposition, judgment or order
and shall in no manner evidence the subject
matter of the pleadings, testimony, findings of
fact, conclusions of law or judgment of
dissolution derived in any such action."
While any person may request a "certification of disposition" which indicates
that a divorce has been granted, I believe that other records involving
separation and divorce are exempt from disclosure, except as provided in
subdivision (1) of §235.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman