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Most court proceedings are considered public matters, even when they deal with sensitive issues like divorce. That's why in the vast majority of jurisdictions, divorce records are open to the public.
Of course, sensitive information like Social Security and bank account numbers are typically redacted or placed in a confidential part of the file that is not publicly accessible. But for the most part, all other divorce filings are public record.
In some situations, though, a judge may agree to file divorce documents under seal, which means they are not open to the public. If one or both parties requests that divorce records are filed under seal, the judge must decide whether to grant the request by weighing the public's right to transparency into court proceedings against the parties' legitimate privacy interests.
There are numerous reasons parties to a divorce may cite when asking a court to seal divorce records. The reasons most commonly accepted by the court include:
It is typically not enough for one or both parties to cite embarrassment or general privacy needs as a reason to seal the records. The request usually must pertain to a specific injury that would result from the divorce records being public.
Additionally, the request must be narrowly tailored enough as to only seal the information needed to protect the privacy interests in question.
Public officials and public figures often request to have their divorce records sealed in an effort to keep the details of their dissolutions out of the public eye.
Experts disagree on whether public figures should have the same privacy rights as regular citizens. Some argue that with public officials, in particular, the public has a greater need for transparency. Others believe that everyone should be entitled to the same level of privacy in divorce proceedings.
Recently, a family court judge in Northern Kentucky had her own divorce records sealed in another county, but a news organization requested that the record be unsealed and was successful in that request.
The judge who unsealed the records said that she made a mistake by granting the request to seal, reasoning that "there were clearly less-restrictive means available for the court to protect the parties' legitimate privacy interests."
Ultimately, whether or not you can seal your own divorce case could depend on:
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.