How to Protect Your Privacy During a Divorce
Divorce is one of those intensely personal life events that must be mentioned because of the drastic changes it triggers, but going into the details of the situation is typically limited to immediate family and close friends. For those that pursue the traditional court process to obtain a divorce, one element of the legal system in this country can prove to be unnerving and unpleasant. Court proceedings, including the documents filed in the case, are matters of public record, which grants anyone the right to access this information, including total strangers. The issues that must be resolved in divorce require revealing highly sensitive information about a couple’s finances, property, and family dynamics, if children are involved, and knowing that anyone can see these details by filing a simple request is apt to leave many spouses feeling exposed and uncomfortable. The likelihood of someone actively seeking out divorce records is low for most couples, but the possibility does exist, and should be a consideration if privacy is of large importance or concern. Minnesota U.S. Representative Keith Ellison is fighting efforts by two news organizations to see his divorce records from 2016, because they believe there is information related to his abuse of a former girlfriend. Divorce records can include all kinds of potentially embarrassing and private information, but there are a few ways to limit the ability of the public to see this information, and a discussion of the two principal options will follow below.
One method of keeping information out of the public eye and record is to resolve the issues of divorce through a private settlement. This may be accomplished through direct negotiation or an alternative dispute process, such as mediation. While the final terms of the agreement must be received and approved by the court, the details of how the parties compromised and the specific considerations that lead to the final agreement need not be revealed. Further, the couple has control and flexibility over the formulation of the terms of the contract, which should reduce the likelihood of future litigation, which would place this private information into the public record.
Sealing Court Records
Alternatively, if a private settlement did not occur, either spouse can file a motion with a court that requests the divorce records be sealed. Sealing records is up to the discretion of the court, but the more specific an argument is about the harm holding these records public would pose, the more likely a court will approve the request. Importantly, a person does not have a be a public figure or celebrity to qualify for this protection, though it is routinely requested by those in the spotlight. Some additional reasons a person may want to keep these records private include:
- Domestic violence;
- Mental illness;
- Substance abuse; or
- Potential financial harm.
The law is strongly in favor of keeping court records public, so a compelling reason to go against this tenet will need to be demonstrated. Some factors courts will look to when assessing the need to seal records are:
- Harm the couple may experience with this exposure;
- Other available methods for protecting the spouse’s interests;
- The public interest in keeping the records open; and
- The potential for harm to the couple’s children by exposure.
The chances of gaining approval are increased if the request is limited to a specific part of the record, and examples of information courts are generally open to sealing include:
- Financial records;
- Social Security numbers;
- Bank accounts;
- Sensitive business information; and
- Any identifying information of a minor child.
Ask for Legal Advice
Privacy is but one aspect of divorce that needs to be discussed with an experienced divorce attorney, and protecting your privacy needs to be part of an overall strategy for the case. All Family Law Group, P.A. knows the pressures you are facing, and has the knowledge and commitment to their clients to help you achieve a favorable outcome. Contact our Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay for a consultation at no charge. They can be reached at 813-672-1900.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+