The last thing we want when going through a tough break-up is to have to battle it out in front of a packed courtroom. However, once a party files for divorce, one’s personal financial information, and custody battles become a public record as a matter of law. The public (including your creditors, the media, or maybe that one nosy neighbor) now has a right to view all documents you file with the Court as well as attend your Court proceedings. Understandably, there are some instances where parties may not want their financial information or other aspects of their case to be public.
Perhaps you are a public figure who is concerned about how divulging personal or private information could affect your career or image. Or maybe your child has an IEP in place or receives state benefits for a disability and you have a legitimate concern that (mis)information alleged by your spouse may limit the services available to your kids. Alternatively, perhaps you and your spouse own a business and are engaged in protracted litigation, and do not want certain business information disseminated. In these circumstances, you have a few options on how to proceed:
- File a Confidential Marital Settlement Agreement and/or Request File be Sealed
- Benefits –Portions of the file can be sealed from public access; Specifically, sensitive financial information.
- Drawbacks – Highly procedural; Even if both sides agree, the court may deny the request. ‘Freedom of Press’ often prevails over ‘Right to Privacy.’
- Private Judge
- Benefits – Less likely media/alternative party would appear (although by law should still be accessible). Can get orders without appearing in court. Can submit documents directly to a private judge.
- Drawbacks – The public may still have the right to attend proceedings before a private judge, most documents that are provided to the judge must first be filed with the court.
- Benefits – no documents need be filed with the Court while parties are engaged in negotiation, “safest route” – can reach agreements without involving the Court, thus decreasing the odds of the dirt the other party might have on you coming out, confidential process, maybe less expensive.
- Drawbacks – both parties must agree to participate, plus if doing informal disclosures of information limited legal safeguards and relies on trusting the other spouse to be forthcoming with information, the possibility of power imbalance can waste time and money if one person backs out of the process or acts in bad faith.
If privacy is a legitimate concern, the lawyers and certified mediators at Levine Family Law Group can assist you with finding the best option for resolving your divorce or other family law matter as discreetly as possible. We are hopeful that in the future, it will be more possible for divorcing parties to keep their dirty laundry private. After all, my divorce is none of your business!