No one enjoys airing the details of their marriage during a divorce, even to family and close friends. The thought of releasing this sensitive information to the public gaze is infinitely worse, but that is the reality facing every couple that files for a traditional divorce. Documents filed with a court are considered part of the public record, and thus, open to view by anyone as part of the transparency of the legal process. While it is possible to request records be sealed and kept private, this is far from guaranteed and requires engaging in an additional procedure that will take more time and money to complete.
There are other alternatives a couple can use to limit the amount of information that is available for the public record, which are better options, if possible. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst recently completed a highly-contentious divorce that included an emergency motion to seal records related to an affidavit she filed concerning her decision to turn down a role in the Trump administration and allegations of abuse against her former husband. Keeping sensitive information out of the public eye is an understandable goal, but a high burden must be met before a court can authorize this step. A discussion of the process to request records be sealed, as well as other alternatives to protect private information from disclosure to the public, will follow below.
Request to Seal Records
The right of the public to access public records is guaranteed both in the State Constitution and statutory law. Thus, public policy is strongly in favor of releasing information to the fullest extent, and a compelling reason will need to be presented to overcome this preference. The burden is so high in favor of public disclosure that courts rarely have enough justification to grant these requests, even if they would prefer to consent. Once a motion to seal records is received, the court must schedule and post notice of a public hearing at which members of the public, and the party requesting the records be kept private, are both given an opportunity to be heard. To succeed in a request to seal records, a party must prove:
- The request is in the public interest;
- Releasing the information would present a serious and imminent danger to the public interest;
- This effect cannot be avoided through another outcome;
- Sealing the records is likely to be effective in protecting the public interest; and
- It is reasonably necessary for the records to be sealed.
In other words, inconvenience, embarrassment, or regret are not enough to receive approval, and records must be unsealed at the earliest possible time.
Other Ways to Protect Private Information
Since it is far from guaranteed that a court will approve a request to seal, taking steps to limit how much information is submitted in the first place is the best way to control how much is available for public consumption. A private agreement, the contents of which can be kept separate from the records filed with court or engaging in collaborative divorce, is a dispute resolution alternative which is wholly private and avoids even the toned-down disputative atmosphere of settlement negotiations. In sum, the best way to keep information from the public is to form the terms of divorce through mutual agreement instead of relying on a court to decide matters. This requires a level of cooperation and collaboration that may be hard to formulate but should be attempted if privacy is of high concern.
Speak to a Divorce Attorney
Wanting to keep your divorce private makes perfect sense, but it will not happen without measured steps to control how issues are resolved and reported. Christopher L. Arrington, P.C. understands the desire to keep your private life out of the public record, and will work with you to develop a strategy that best achieves this goal. Contact the Danville divorce firm to schedule an appointment.