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What Are New York Family Court Records?

New York Family Court records are official documents describing the proceedings of Family Courts in the state. These records include case documents, orders, petitions, summons, and records of court proceedings. Citizens can also obtain the administrative records of Family Courts in New York State. Not all Family Court records are publicly available in New York. The ones that are public records are accessible online and in person. Some of these courts also have electronic record systems that allow anyone to sign up to track cases of interest.

Structure and Function of New York Family Courts

In New York, the official description of the court that hears cases involving families and children is the Family Court of the State of New York. Each county in New York State has a Family Court. There is also one in the Big Apple called the New York City Family Court. Also known as the Family Court of the State of New York within the City of New York, it has a courthouse in each of the five boroughs (counties) that make up the city.

The Family Court is a specialized court and part of the state’s Unified Court System. It handles domestic relations cases including those involving child abuse, neglect, custody, support, and visitation. Its jurisdiction also covers guardianship, juvenile delinquency, adoption, paternity, and domestic violence. The court also makes decisions regarding persons in need of supervision (PINS).

New York Family Courts do not hear divorce cases. Those are filed with the New York Supreme Court. Unlike most states, the Supreme Court is not the highest court in the state. Rather, it is a trial court with branches in all 62 counties of New York.

How to Serve Family Court Papers in New York

New York Family Courts allow defendants to serve summons and petitions to other parties named in their suits. Court papers must be served to respondents at least 8 days before the court dates on which they must appear. The Family Court of New York has a number of rules governing serving papers especially about who can serve them. This individual must be at least 18 years old and not a party to the case. They can be a:

  • Friend or family member
  • Process server
  • Police officer
  • Sheriff

Police officers are not obligated to serve Family Court papers in New York. Process servers and sheriffs charge fees to take on this duty. These individuals may not serve court papers on Sundays unless they are serving protective orders or Summons for Order of Protection.

The person who serves a Family Court paper to a respondent must complete and notarize an Affidavit of Service after the service. The Affidavit of Service provides the following information:

  • Type of court document served
  • Name of the individual delivering the served paper
  • Where, when, and how the paper was delivered/served
  • Whether the paper was handed to someone (also the individual’s description) or mailed (when and how it was mailed)

The party requesting the service of paper must then bring the signed affidavit to court on their next hearing date and file it. If you are unable to serve a Family Court paper properly, bring the issue before the judge on your next court date and ask for further direction.

New York State uses five serving methods for its court papers. These are:

  • Personal Service
  • Substituted Service
  • Conspicuous Place Service
  • Service by Mail
  • Service by Publication

Personal service requires that the respondent receive the court paper in hand. This method is compulsory for Family Court documents such as orders of protection, custody petitions, divorce petitions and summonses, and visitation petitions.

When serving court papers by substituted service, the server delivers the documents to someone else to give the defendant. Copies of the served papers must also be mailed to the defendant. Child support petitions may be delivered in this way. Conspicuous place delivery involves leaving the court papers in a place where the defendant/respondent is most likely to find them. This usually happens if the respondent refuses to open the door of the home, where they reside, to accept the process. Copies of the served court papers must also be mailed to the respondent’s address.

Services by mail and publication must be authorized by the court before court papers can be delivered in these ways. The court may require a postal service return receipt to provide proof that the documents were indeed sent to the respondent’s address. When the exact address of the respondent is unknown, but the serving party is certain they live in a New York city, town, or village, the court may approve service by publishing the papers in a newspaper. Before applying for this option, the process server must attempt to deliver the court papers to the respondents’ last known address multiple times and provide an affidavit of attempted service.

How to Look Up Family Law Cases in New York

The New York Unified Court System has a central online portal for accessing cases filed in courts around the state. The eCourts platform provides a dedicated section for active cases in Family Courts in all 62 counties of New York. It also includes ongoing cases filed in New York Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Courts in select counties with such courts.

To look up a family law case, visit the WebFamily section of the portal. There, you can search the calendars of the state’s Family Courts as well as find their locations and serving judges. You can search for cases by providing their file or docket numbers. The portal also allows anyone to see the complete list of cases handled by a firm or an attorney currently tried at New York Family Courts.

How to Request New York Family Court Records

The FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) does not govern access to New York court records. Rather, the right to view and obtain copies of state court records is determined by Section 255 of the Judiciary Law. This section places the responsibility to provide copies of court records with court clerks.

To request Family Court records in New York, contact the Clerk of the Court that heard the case in question. In some New York counties, these records are available from the Office of the County Clerk. Visit the court or county website to find the address and/or phone number of the Court or County Clerk. Some counties require requesters to contact their Family Courts by phone when enquiring about these records.

Request for Family Court records should provide the following information:

  • Case index number
  • Type of record sought
  • Record filing date
  • Names of the parties involved

Each request must be specific and describe the records wanted. The request should also use case and document reference numbers consistent with the court’s indexing and record retrieval system. By providing as much information as possible about the specific Family Court records you want, the Clerk’s Office can easily and quickly provide the right documents.

Some New York Family Courts require the public to submit their requests using provided application forms. Where required, such forms will be provided on the court or county website for download. Print and complete the right request form for the records you want. The courts charge nominal fees for copies of records requested. Find out the current rate for court documents by calling the Family Court where the records are kept.

Family Court Records can include marriage records and New York divorce records. These records contain personal information of those involved and their maintenance is critical should anyone involved wish to make changes. Because of this both marriage and divorce records can be considered more difficult to locate and obtain than other public records, and may not be available through government sources or third party public record websites.

Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:

  • The name of someone involved, providing it is not a juvenile
  • The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name

Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.

Are Family Law Records Public Records in New York?

Records of Family Court proceedings are not open to unrestricted public inspection in the State of New York. Section 166 of the New York Family Court Act determines access to family law records. It restricts access to these records except for certain named individuals. The law also empowers the state’s Family Courts to exercise their discretion when allowing the inspection of their records. Therefore, members of the public can only view and obtain Family Court records in New York if granted access by a court.

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 approved to care for a child as well as their attorneys
  • Authorized representatives of the child protective service involved in a family law proceeding
  • Authorized representatives/volunteers of a court-appointed Special Advocate program assisting in a child’s case
  • Representatives of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct
  • Another court requiring records of a Family Court case for its own proceedings
  • Selected portions of New York marriage records or divorce case information may be restricted from public dlsclosure if they reveal senstive information about victims of a crime or vunerable persons

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.

Are Custody Papers Public Records in New York?

No. Like other New York Family Court records, custody records are confidential and only accessible by court order and parties to child custody cases. Parents, legal guardians, court-approved caregivers, and their attorneys of record may request these records from New York Family Court and county clerks.

Do New York Family Courts Seal Divorce Records?

Yes. New York Family Courts seal divorce records by default. Sealed records include pleadings, confidential records like financial documents, and divorce decrees. They keep these records confidential for 100 years after the divorce. New York is the only state to do this.

Only the parties involved in a divorce and their attorneys can view and obtain copies of a divorce record. Divorce records are also maintained by county clerk offices in New York. The state may release divorce records to another court seeking the information contained for the determination of an ongoing case.

Note though that a New York Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals may publish a decision regarding the outcome of a divorce case. Such decisions and opinions may contain identifying information about the parties involved in a divorce. However, their attorneys may request the court or county clerk to describe the case with anonymous captions to maintain the anonymity of their clients.

How Do I Find Divorce Records in New York?

New York divorce records are not available from Family Courts. These are provided by the Supreme Court and usually maintained by County Clerks. To find divorce records, visit the office or website of the county where the divorce was filed and finalized.

County Clerks’ offices usually provide separate forms for requesting certified copies of divorce judgements. You can find a downloadable copy of this form on the county or court website. Note that copies of divorce judgements are only provided to the parties involved and their attorneys of record. A third-party may obtain these records by presenting a court order granting access to them or providing a notarized statement from one of the parties involved in the divorce.

The New York State Department of Health also provides copies of divorce certificates upon request. Its records include divorces granted in the state from 1963 to the present. The Department of Health only releases divorce certificates to the parties involved. A third party may obtain this document by presenting a New York State Court Order granting access.

Both government websites and organizations may offer divorce and marriage records. Similarly, third party public record websites can also provide these types of records. But because third party organizations are not operated or sponsored by the government, record availability may vary. Further, marriage and divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

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