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Can You Keep Your Divorce Hearing Closed to the Public?

Divorce is one of the most personal and painful events couples and their families can experience. Admitting that a marriage did not work out is never easy, and many spouses have strong emotions about how things could have been different. Not every relationship is meant to last, though, and most couples divorce for sound reasons. However, exposing this sensitive, and possibly embarrassing, information to strangers is not a prospect anyone really wants. Divorce cases typically involve several hearings with a family court judge. By and large, court proceedings are open to the public, and many other people are usually present — the general public, parties in other cases, and attorneys being the most common. This can feel overwhelming and impose a lot of pressure on spouses appearing before the judge.

The American legal system was designed to be transparent, to contrast with the secrecy seen in most court proceedings in Europe, but family law cases, particularly those involving children, are not always treated in the same way. A discussion of the how courts view requests to close a proceeding to the public will follow below.

Family Court Hearings in General

As with any litigation, the number of hearings held in a given case will depend upon the level of disagreement vs. cooperation. Thus, couples more willing to compromise may only have to attend the preliminary and final hearings to settle their case. The issues discussed depend upon the type of hearing. The preliminary hearing, held if the parties cannot agree, addresses how to handle the transition period between filing for divorce and the final division of the marital estate. Issues such as which spouse will pay bills, who will remain in the marital home, and how parenting time will be divided, are discussed. Whatever is ordered remains in effect until the final hearing is held, which will finalize the division of marital property, child custody, spousal maintenance, child support, and any other outstanding issues. The terms ordered in the final hearing may or may not match what was initially ordered, but the provisions will govern how the spouses move forward.

Open or Closed Proceedings

As noted above, the integrity of the American legal system rests on the fact that proceedings are generally open to the public, which ensures the any injustices or errors by the judiciary cannot be hidden and ignored. Thus, as long as there is a seat, most court proceedings are open to the public. For obvious reasons, the matters mentioned above are not topics most people are interested in discussing within earshot of others. However, avoiding an open courtroom is not realistic in most cases. Judges will close the courtroom to outsiders if matters of child custody are the primary focus of the hearing to protect the child’s identity and welfare. In addition, judges will sometimes grant a closed hearing if confidentiality concerns outweigh the public’s interest in access, but this is fact-specific and will vary by case. An experienced family law attorney is best equipped to advise on whether a closed hearing is an option.

Talk to an Indiana Family Law Attorney

Court proceedings can be overwhelming, but Christopher L. Arrington, P.C. is here to ease your worries and guide you through the process with the minimum amount of stress. Getting divorced is never easy, but knowing what to expect from the process can provide some peace of mind. Contact our Avon family law firm today to schedule an appointment.

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