Divorce Records & Privacy

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Monday, September 26, 2016.

Tonight is the first presidential debate. Because of the importance of presidential elections, should Donald Trump’s New York divorce records be released to the public?

A New York judge has rejected a media request to make public the contents of a 25-year-old court file on Donald Trump’s divorce from wife Ivana, saying the courts have no business deciding what information could be useful to voters.

Family Court records in New York are not open to indiscriminate public inspection. In order to access them, you must make an application to the Court. It is solely up to the judge to permit the inspection.

The New York Times and the Gannett newspaper chain filed a motion to unseal Donald Trump’s records, arguing the move was needed to contribute to public debate over Trump’s fitness for the presidency.

I’ve written about the issue of public access to divorce records before. For example, in the Tom Cruise divorce, his ex-wife could have filed in New York or California. So, why did she choose New York?

One of the main reasons is New York’s privacy law. Florida has different rules on privacy. In an effort to protect the privacy of parties to a divorce, and prevent identity theft, Florida recently adopted a confidentiality rule to better protect social security and bank account numbers for instance. But Florida court filings are not private.

Earlier this month, lawyers for both Donald and Ivana Trump filed legal papers opposing the unsealing.

His ex-wife agreed, but also contended that since she is not running for office, she should not have to sacrifice her privacy even if the court found an enhanced interest in her husband’s actions.

Her submission to the court noted published reports alleging that she claimed during the divorce that he had raped her. However, Ivana Trump’s brief said that was not her view and dismissed those reports as “previous misinterpreted statements and allegations.”

The judge agreed with Ivana Trump that there was no reason to intrude on her privacy.

“If the court were to deprive the candidate party of his rights…on the ground that there may be something in the confidential file that would be useful in determining his fitness for office, that ground does not exist in the case of his former wife, who is not a candidate.”

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Frank Nervo rejected the New York Times’ argument in a ruling released Thursday.

“Were the court to make the confidential records available for journalistic, and thus public, scrutiny, it would impermissibly inject itself into the political process by making the value judgment of what information is useful in determining the present candidate’s, or any other candidate’s, fitness for office.”

A lawyer for the news outlets, David Schulz, said no immediate decision had been made about whether to appeal.

The article in Politico is here.