Divorce is an emotionally daunting prospect. It’s hard enough to end a relationship with a valued partner; you shouldn’t have to worry about your dirty laundry being a matter of public record. But many legal proceedings are just that – easily accessible to the public eye. So what can you do to protect your privacy during a divorce?
The Legal Background of Divorce Privacy
Divorce records remain public unless the court agrees to seal them. Exceptions to this rule exist; for example, the identification of minor children or victims of sexual abuse are sealed. If you want to preserve the privacy of your divorce record, both you and your spouse will have to request that the court place your record under seal. Courts have the power to seal entire records or just the portions that contain sensitive information.
Judges grant the decision to seal records based on a couple of considerations: first, they decide whether having your record public will cause more damage than the presumption that your record should be open to the public scrutiny. Secondly, they consider whether the request is narrowly tailored to focus only on necessary information.
Why Would the Courts Grant a Record Seal?
Judges grant requests on a case-to-case basis, but some common reasons to seal court records include:
- Protecting victims of domestic violence;
- Keeping sensitive information private; and
- Protecting business information.
Members of high-profile, executive divorces, celebrity divorces, and or high net worth divorces may opt to seal records to prevent exposure from allegations that may damage their reputation. However, judges generally won’t grant a seal just because the information in the file is embarrassing. If the allegations are false and libelous, however, they may make the record private.
Getting Your Record Sealed
Getting your record sealed hinges on your request being what legal experts call narrowly tailored. In other words, you need to present your request in a way that seeks to seal only what’s necessary. Judges are more likely to redact a record than they are to seal it off entirely.
Your record is most likely to be sealed if the amount of damage you’d sustain with a public record supersedes the right of the public to view your record. This idea of transparency in the courts is one that harkens back to the days of the drafting of the Constitution. Lawmakers believed the public having access to court records would keep them from having too much power, so they incorporated it into their system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, they couldn’t have foreseen the number of individuals who would wish to keep their family matters private.
Getting your record sealed, partially or entirely, requires the skill of an experienced divorce attorney. You shouldn’t attempt to try this process, yourself; a lawyer with experience knows how to word the request in a way that optimizes your chance of a judge granting the request.
I Think My Divorce Record Contains Damaging Information, and I Want it Sealed. What are My Next Steps?
If you want to protect your reputation from false allegations, or you simply want to protect the identity of your children, you need a law firm to help you with your request. At Boyd Law, our family attorneys in San Diego, CA have been helping families with their divorce proceedings for decades. Meet with a member of our legal team, who will review the specifics of your request and help you decide on next steps. Keep in mind that a partial redaction is more likely to be successful than sealing off an entire divorce record. If you have questions or would like to begin a request to make your divorce private, don’t hesitate to contact us.