Can You Have Your Divorce Records Sealed?
Followers of political news and debate in the Sun Belt may have noted that Alabama’s Governor Robert Bentley and his wife Dianne Bentley have filed for divorce. Additionally, those following the case may have noted that a judge recently granted a request to seal the records in the divorce proceedings from the public. On the national stage, celebrity couples like music stars Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, as well as television stars Jon and Kate Gosselin, have seen their divorce records similarly shielded from public inspection.
The appearance of this practice in the news may leave the average separating couple wondering, could they, too, have their divorce records sealed? And if so, how would it be done?
Divorce records, like many court records, are presumed to be public information and are treated as such. Those willing to look them up, seek them out, and potentially pay any copying fees to receive them on paper may do so. There is no hard and fast rule regarding the sealing of divorce records to prevent such public scrutiny. On the contrary, judges have ultimate discretion in deciding whether to seal divorce records.
Why Seal the Records?
Obviously, one reason a couple or a spouse may want to seal divorce records is to hide unseemly, incriminating, or sensitive personal information from public eyes. However, there is a plethora of other reasons a judge may see as compelling reason to seal. Financial records, business information, or trade secrets could potentially come up in divorce proceedings, the disclosures of which may prove financially harmful to the parties. Spouses who make allegations, particularly of illegal conduct, against one another may have divorce records sealed in the event the allegations are later proven false to prevent the unreasonable sullying of a party’s reputation. And in cases of child, physical, sexual, or other types of abuse, divorce records may be sealed to protect the identities of victims.
What Happens to the Sealed Files?
The files, if sealed, do not simply disappear. In fact, a judge will generally be very specific with sealing records, only concealing some details or specific sensitive information or documents. Depending on the jurisdiction and the judge, a judge will rarely seal the entirety of the court record regarding a divorce and will only do so if a party is able to present an extremely compelling rationale.
I Would Like to Have My Divorce Records Sealed. What Should I Do?
Courts generally prefer not to seal records so attempting to get them sealed can involve fighting an uphill battle. Additionally, it is important to note that sealing records is not the only manner in which you can protect sensitive information in divorce cases from public prying. In Florida, courts can, in some cases, waive the requirement for parties to introduce certain documents into the court in the first place, thereby ensuring that the sensitive information never makes it to the record.
If you are interested in having your divorce records sealed or believe that it would be appropriate or necessary to do so, you will need to file a request with the court. The best way to begin the process is to consult with experienced legal counsel. If you are navigating divorce and separation issues, consider contacting Schwartz | White in Boca Raton at 561-391-9943 today for a consultation.