Obtaining a divorce requires the disclosure of sensitive information concerning your finances, history, employment, family, business, and much more. It can be an invasive and uncomfortable process, even for people who feel like they have nothing to hide. If you’re reading this, chances are you want to limit public exposure to your divorce proceedings — but how?
The first option is to use alternative dispute resolution instead of going to court. Mediation is one example of an alternative dispute resolution process where both parties agree to use a mediator, a neutral third-party, to help facilitate an agreement. The mediator is usually a family law attorney experienced with divorce. The mediation process usually offers more discretion than litigation when it comes to maintaining the privacy of sensitive information.
If mediation is not an option, or if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, then litigation may be the only way to solve the dispute. Court proceedings will not be as private as using an alternative dispute resolution process since court records are public: they can, in theory, be accessed by anyone in the community. To protect their privacy, parties can sometimes mark filings “confidential” instead of “public,” or redact some parts of a document. Confidential means that only those employed by the court can read the documents. Information that is considered confidential can include social security numbers; driver’s license numbers; financial account numbers; medical records; etc. This process, and what options are available, will depend on the court.
In seeking to keep information confidential, parties can ask the court to seal case documents. For a court to seal case documents, the court must find “by clear and convincing evidence that the presumption of allowing public access is outweighed by a higher interest.” Sup.R. 45(E)(2). In determining whether a higher interest outweighs public access, the court must consider whether public policy would be restricted by not maintaining public access, whether there is a law that exempts the document from public access, and whether there is a “risk of injury to persons, individual privacy rights and interests, proprietary business information, public safety, and fairness of the adjudicatory process.” Id.
If you are contemplating divorce but worried about your privacy during the proceedings, contact Attorney Zachary D. Smith. He can help you explore your options and decide how best to protect your sensitive information.