Divorce can leave the participants feeling emotionally and financially vulnerable. These reactions make sense in light of the dramatic changes divorce triggers within a relatively short-period of time – change in residence, change in economic circumstance and change in relationship status. Another difficult reality of divorce is the necessity of releasing private and potentially embarrassing information to the public. All cases filed in any court are matters of public record, which means anyone has the right to access them upon request. This was not much of an issue before the advent of the Internet, and to view case records typically required someone to visit the courthouse in person. However, now that records can be accessed from the comfort of home at any time of the day, concerns about who may view, and subsequently use, this information is real and justified. Parties involved in court proceedings have the right to ask a judge to seal all case records and related documents so the information is withheld from public view. However, a compelling reason must exist to justify such a request. Actor Brad Pitt recently tried to seal the records in his divorce, citing concerns about his children’s privacy rights, but the court disagreed and denied the request. While receiving approval to seal records in a divorce case is not easy, it does happen. Importantly, though, there are ways to keep information private without resorting to a request to seal records.
As noted above, documents filed in connection with divorce cases are considered public records subject to Florida law on the public’s right to access this information. If a party wants to keep information out of the public eye, he/she must file a request with the court asking it to designate certain information as confidential and thus exempt from disclosure. Courts will only grant such a request if a party can demonstrate certain grounds exist to justify the decision. These include:
- confidentiality is necessary to preserve justice in a case;
- confidentiality is needed to avoid injury to innocent third parties, such as children; or
- confidentiality is necessary to prevent injury to a party by the disclosure of information normally protected under common law or a right to privacy.
Courts are generally reluctant to grant these requests, and a party must have a fairly compelling reason to be successful. Consequently, a better option is to limit or completely avoid submitting private information to a court.
Other Ways of Keeping Information Private
The most effective way to circumvent the need to release private information into the public record is to negotiate and enter into a private settlement agreement as part of a mediation or through the collaborative divorce process. These proceedings are private, and the extent to which personal information must be disclosed to finalize a divorce is limited. Further, the provisions of a marital settlement can refer to outside agreements without disclosing the terms contained within them, which is especially useful to protect financial information. Thus, while it takes a little planning, it is possible to keep most personal information out of the public domain, and an experienced divorce attorney will know the most effective way to accomplish this goal.
Consult a Divorce Attorney
Divorce is difficult, and being forced to disclose personal information to strangers only adds to the stress. If you are concerned about revealing personal information to the public, work with a knowledgeable divorce attorney about limiting your exposure. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+