Public Divorce Records: How to Protect Your Privacy
Privacy is a topic of concern for many, especially as the world moves further into the digital era. Many aspects of our lives are searchable, sometimes even without our knowledge, as certain information is considered public domain. Knowing this, the concern for privacy can make going through a divorce that much more difficult to endure. A public divorce can hinder our ability to feel in control of sensitive information, as anyone can legally find the details of legal court proceedings.
Unfortunately, this means that divorce filings are considered public record, and divorce hearings are open to the public.
This also means that aside from personal identifiers, such as Social Security numbers which must be redacted, any information contained in divorce filings can be found in these documents.
This can become a major point of concern if a spouse reveals private information about their partner or if children are involved in the divorce.
Fortunately, it is still possible to maintain a level of privacy during such a difficult time. Below are some strategies that can help protect your and your family’s privacy during a divorce.
The Decision to File Divorce Records Under Seal
To protect divorce documents from becoming public records, both spouses must ask the court to file the records in the case under seal. When this happens, confidential or sensitive information will be kept private and will not become accessible to the public. Courts have the ability to order entire records or portions of documents to be filed under seal.
It is important to note that courts will not file records under seal automatically. Either or both parties to the divorce must request that the court seal them. The judge has the discretion to decide whether this request will be granted, with special attention given to cases that involve children, abuse, substance issues, or potential libel. The judge will consider whether the potential damage to the party or parties making the request outweighs the public policy to keep court records accessible to the public.
Confused and overwhelmed? Check out “Getting Through Divorce: How to Keep Your Head Straight.”
Reasons for Sealing Divorce Records
There are many reasons why you may want to keep your divorce filings private. Some of the most common reasons include:
- The need to protect a child’s identity in the divorce records
- The need to protect victims of domestic or sexual violence
- The need to protect proprietary business information
If you are a public figure, you may also want to seal divorce records to protect your reputation and prevent any damage to your public image through the exposure of false allegations. However, embarrassing information on its own may not be enough to convince a court to seal divorce records from the public.
Why Divorces are Generally Public
The primary reason that divorces are public is to maintain a level of transparency in court proceedings. The public is able to see what occurs in the courts through access to these court records. They can also see what information may drive a certain court’s decision. In an effort to maintain a positive and transparent relationship with the public, court filings must remain accessible.
If you are requesting that the court seal your divorce records, you must be able to demonstrate the damage you would suffer if the records were to be made public. You must then demonstrate that this damage outweighs the public’s right to open court records.
The court must agree that these two elements have been met to exercise its discretion to seal the records. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can work with you to prepare a request to seal your divorce records and help you demonstrate the losses you would face if the records were made public.
For more things to know and take care of (lest you be caught by surprise), read “55 Must-Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist.”
Tailoring Requests for Sealed Divorce Records
When requesting to seal divorce records, it is important to make sure that the request is narrowly tailored, which means only asking to seal the potentially damaging information. Generally, courts will only seal as much information as is required to protect the privacy interests in question. This may result in redacting portions of a divorce filing rather than sealing entire documents.
Narrowly tailored requests to seal divorce records have a better chance of approval than requests to seal all documents filed in a case.
It is important to clearly state your privacy concern and ask the court to redact or seal the specific information related to it rather than make a blanket request to seal the entire record based on vague privacy concerns.
Using Mediation or Arbitration for Privacy
In many cases, the best way to protect your privacy is to come to an agreement with your spouse before filing in court to request a divorce. Mediation to settle a divorce can keep sensitive information out of the public eye and safe from scrutiny. A mediator can help divorcing spouses to negotiate a settlement, resolve any disputes, and guide discussions during the divorce. If an agreement is reached at mediation that leads to a written settlement agreement, the only documents that will be filed in court are papers to request a divorce and the written agreement. The agreement can be drafted to exclude sensitive information.
Mediation is a great solution to settle a divorce while minimizing your time spent in court. Using this method, you can keep information regarding assets and finances as well as sensitive information regarding children out of official court records.
Considering reading “6 Essentials for Preparing for Mediation.”
Private divorce arbitration is another way to resolve a divorce out of court. Private arbitration is almost identical to a regular trial in court. The difference is that a private arbitrator—who are often retired judges—will adjudicate the parties’ divorce in private. The arbitrator will then issue a decision, which can be tailored to exclude sensitive information. That decision will then be incorporated into the court’s judgment of divorce.
Privacy from Your Spouse
Some people may be less concerned with their divorce being public information and more worried about their spouse accessing their private information. To prevent any of your private information from getting into the wrong hands, it is a good idea to change your passwords for personal accounts. This will prevent others from accessing sensitive data.
Keeping private documents from your spouse during a divorce may also be something to consider. If you still live with your spouse during the divorce, consider storing documents in a lockbox or safe or in a location outside the home.
Another important aspect to consider during a divorce is social media. Attorneys will frequently use social media posts in divorce proceedings. Images and posts may become part of the public record which can be a point of concern to those who want to maintain their privacy as much as possible. Revealing too much on social media can cause issues in the divorce process, whether it be settling or litigating the divorce. This is why it is important to be very careful with what you post to maintain as much privacy as possible.
Settling or litigating? Understand “What’s the Difference Between an Uncontested and Contested Divorce?
If you’re worried about the private contents of your divorce proceedings becoming public record, there are some options available to you. Requests to seal parts of your divorce records will be more likely to be accepted by the judge if they are narrow in scope and can demonstrate that harm would be done if made public. If those harms outweigh the public right to information, the judge will likely grant your request. Typically, this is when proceedings include minors (children), infidelity, or other personal information that could tarnish one’s reputation if made public.
Work with an Attorney You Trust: Going through a divorce can be incredibly stressful. It is important to find an attorney you trust to handle your case and help you get the privacy you want. At Moskowitz Law Group LLC, we are committed to ensuring that you are taken care of during your divorce. Our dedicated team can guide you through the divorce process and take some of the stress off of you during this difficult time. Take action to protect your privacy by contacting an experienced legal professional today.
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