Are Divorce Records Public?
by Unbundled Legal Help
The divorce process can unearth a lot of sensitive information about your finances, mental health, relationship, family, etc. Facing the stress of divorce in addition to worrying about your private information becoming public can be overwhelming. This leads many to ask, “Are divorce records public?”
Yes, much of the information divulged in divorce hearings becomes public record. Anyone can access the information if they know where to find it. Some sensitive information involving children, identification information, abuse, false accusations, etc., can be sealed by the courts. In many cases, you will have to request it.
Learn more below about public records, what information can remain private, and how to seal your divorce records. Speak with an unbundled attorney today to learn more.
What Is a Public Record?
Any record filed with a public office can become a public record. The information contained in the records can be accessed by any person of the public. They are allowed to make copies of the information, examine it, etc. for any purpose they choose.
In most cases, public records are only kept on significant information presented during the divorce proceedings, usually not inconsequential documents. Since 1999, all courts hold divorce cases (and any other type of cases) electronically. They can be accessed through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service.
In general, divorce cases before 1999 can be found at the court where they were filed or at an approved records center. Though much of the information presented during a divorce case can be considered confidential, the public can access it for a small charge per document.
What Information from My Divorce Will Become Public?
Due to the emotional and personal nature of a divorce, unflattering and embarrassing information is often presented during the trial. You may say some things about your spouse that you later regret, your spouse could levy false accusations against you, etc.
It is important to know what will become public so you can appropriately gauge the risks of taking your case to trial. Examples of information that can become public record during divorce proceedings include:
- Motions and declarations that are filed
- Statements you make about your spouse, child, and yourself
- Statements that your spouse and/or child make about you
- Statements made by professionals (i.e. mediators, child custody evaluators, etc.)
- Accusations of domestic violence
- Evidence presented in your case
An experienced divorce lawyer can help you to better understand the type of information that can become public. They can also help you to decide what information to include in statements and how to seal your records.
Can Any Information Remain Private?
While much of the documentation, statements, and evidence presented during a divorce hearing will become public knowledge, there are times that the court will allow certain information to be sealed. This means that it cannot be accessed by the public unless they have a court order.
Typically, some or all documents from divorce cases that involve sensitive issues can be made private. Examples of such information include domestic violence, misinformation, false accusations, sensitive business information, identification numbers, etc.
How To Get Your Record Sealed
It is important to note that a judge will usually seal documents only if a request is made (other than personal identification, children’s names, etc.). Furthermore, requests to seal records are not always granted if a court does not believe that it is necessary.
A family court judge will generally require a strong reason to have all or portions of your record sealed. In many cases, a desire to seal your records simply because you do not want embarrassing information about yourself or your family released is not a good enough reason.
This type of sensitive information can serve as a guide when you are preparing statements or submitting evidence. Essentially, if it is not necessary, it may be better to leave out information that you do not want to become public. If you wish to seal all or parts of your divorce records, then you can file a motion. Ensure that you cite valid reasons for your request.
In some situations, it may be best to request the court to seal a portion of your divorce records and not the entirety of it. Furthermore, some states may afford you the opportunity to ask a judge to waive the court filing requirements. Since your information won’t be filed with the court, it is not required to become a public record.
Speak with your divorce lawyer about the best options for your particular case.
Reasons for Sealing Divorce Records
There are many reasons why you may want to seal your divorce records. However, a court will only grant your request if they believe that it identifies a “good cause” to do so. Common reasons that people request their divorce records to be sealed include
- Abuse: The court may grant a request to seal records pertaining to sexual or physical abuse of a child or spouse in order to protect the victim’s identity.
- Mental Illness: If you or your spouse has a mental illness or addiction, the court may allow that information to remain private.
- False Allegations: Allegations that are not proven and/or determined to be false can be sealed in order to protect the reputation of the person the allegations were levied against.
What Is a Narrowly Tailored Request?
Although you may have a valid reason to request certain information to be sealed, a judge could still deny your request if it seeks to seal more information that is necessary. For the most part, you must present the court with a narrowly tailored request to only seal specific information.
In general, the narrower your request is, the more likely a judge is to approve it. In your motion, you or your family law attorney must specifically state your privacy concerns and ask the court to either seal it or redact certain information.
Even if your request is approved, it is typically in your best interest to check the records yourself or hire a divorce lawyer to ensure that all of the information in your request is actually sealed.
Ways To Protect Your Privacy
Aside from requesting your records to be sealed, there are other ways that can ensure your privacy. One of the most effective strategies to keep your information private is to settle your divorce before going to trial. Couples that can effectively negotiate a divorce settlement can avoid the perils of their divorce information becoming public.
If you and your spouse have a few disputes that can potentially be worked out, you may find that mediation or some other form of non-adversarial negotiation can help to keep your private information out of the public domain.
Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer To Seal My Records?
Technically, no. You do not need an attorney to seal your divorce records. However, filing a motion to seal your records on your own can lead to errors. These errors can result in your request being denied. If your request is not granted, you may spend additional money to file more motions.
A family law lawyer can identify the specific information that needs to be sealed, draft a request that highlights a valid reason for your privacy concerns, and file a motion on your behalf. Additionally, a divorce lawyer can assist you in negotiating with your spouse and settling your divorce before your information ever has a chance to become public.
How Much Does it Cost To Seal My Divorce Records?
If you want to seal all of your divorce records or parts of it, you will typically have to pay a fee. Fees can vary depending on the state that you are in. In general, you can expect to pay $50 - $150 for every request made.
This does not include the cost of hiring a divorce lawyer. If you hire an attorney to handle your divorce you can expect to pay an upfront fee of $3k-$5k, plus an additional $300-$500 per hour on top of that.
As you can see, the court fees in addition to attorney fees can quickly add up. Fortunately, there are ways to affordably hire a lawyer to take care of certain parts of your case (like sealing your divorce records) while you save thousands on legal fees by handling the rest on your own. Learn more about the benefits of hiring an unbundled attorney below.
Save Money with an Access Legal Unbundled Lawyer
Most divorce lawyers charge high upfront fees and hourly rates because they intend to handle every aspect of your divorce case when you become their client.
With unbundled legal services offered by Access Legal, you can save thousands of dollars in upfront fees by hiring a divorce attorney to help you with the more complex parts of your case while you take care of the rest.
Fees for unbundled legal services start as low as $500-$1500. All divorce cases are not a good fit to be unbundled. If yours is highly contested and/or complex, our network of unbundled divorce attorneys also offers affordable rates for full representation.
Legal help can be effective and affordable at the same time. Get in contact with an unbundled attorney within minutes, and learn if your case is a good fit for unbundled legal services today.