Is It Possible to Keep a Divorce Private?
Going through divorce is difficult enough without having to take into consideration the exposure a standard divorce case brings to the private details of a couple’s marriage. Private information related to property, finances, and child custody must be disclosed to the court, and this information becomes public once filed, meaning anyone could access it. This reality is especially concerning for individuals with some amount of public notoriety, or those in high-conflict or abusive situations. The release of this information could prove embarrassing, or feel like it concerns things others do not need to know. Spouses may assume that once the divorce is finalized, this private and sensitive information is sealed from public view, but this is not the case. It is possible to request the records be sealed, but this is up to a judge’s discretion, so it is far from guaranteed. If a couple is serious about keeping the proceedings as private as possible, there are measures they can take to control how much information is released. A discussion about the rules for sealing court records, and actions couples can take independently to limit the amount of information that is available for public consumption without the need for a request to seal documents, will follow below.
Standard for Sealing Public Records
The justice system in this country is designed to be transparent, which means all proceedings that are heard by a court are automatically considered a matter of public record. As a result, courts are not particularly inclined to seal public records without a compelling reason. There is a presumption of openness, and to overcome this presumption, a party will need to convince a judge that good cause exists for the request, and serious injury will result if the request is not granted. Narrowing the request to specific records is more likely to be successful than asking the court to seal everything. Thus, figuring out which documents are the most sensitive and most wanted out of the public record can help to narrow the extent of the request. However, note that courts are now willing to allow parties to redact Social Security numbers, the names of minors, bank account information, etc., but everything else filed with the court is considered open.
Methods of Protecting Privacy
Knowing that asking a court to seal records is difficult to win, couples invested in keeping their information private can do things on their own to control the release of information. The use of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements allows the spouses to settle key issues before the case is filed, and consequently, avoid having to negotiate them as part of a court-approved settlement during the divorce proceedings. Further, the use of alternative dispute resolution methods, such as collaborative divorce and mediation, produces private agreements that can stay out of the public records. In addition, couples can sign confidentiality agreements related to the exchange of any information or settlement, which serves to keep the information private. This is especially important with child custody and alimony, highly contentious issues prone to spur litigation. In general, the more spouses are able to cooperate in the resolution of the divorce, the easier it will be to structure how and when sensitive information is released. The more that is accomplished outside the courtroom, the less typically subject to the public record.
Consult a Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney
Divorce is a painful process that requires divulging highly personal information. If you have a vested interest in limiting how much is put into the public record, talk to a divorce attorney right away. The attorneys at Barbara Flum Stein & Associates are dedicated to getting you the best possible outcome, and are available to discuss your case. Contact the Delaware County divorce law firm at (610) 565-6100 to schedule a consultation.