When you and your spouse file for divorce, how much of your case information is secret? Who has access to your information and what type of access do they have?
In general, most court proceedings and records are open to the public. Anyone can attend a hearing in open court, and court records are available for viewing as long as they haven’t been sealed. Court records include any document, exhibit, or other types of paperwork that are maintained by the court for use during a judicial proceeding. Often, court records like the case docket, orders, and judgments are available online, though there may be a fee for viewing these records.
Family law cases are much more private than the average civil or criminal case. In a family law matter, like a divorce or child custody dispute, much of the information presented to the court is restricted and is not available to the public. For instance, health care records and financial documents like tax returns and bank statements are usually kept confidential. Also, reports which may be used in the case, like parenting evaluations, domestic violence reports, and guardian ad litem reports are usually sealed.
Additionally, most information relating to children is kept out of view of the public. Children’s names and contact information is usually kept confidential in all types of family law cases, as are most records relating to adoption.
If there is information which a couple does not want to make public during a divorce, one of the parties must request that the judge seal the record either in full or in part. A judge will only seal records if there is a compelling reason for keeping the information private. For example, a divorcing couple who owns a business may need to protect proprietary business information from competitors, and the judge may agree to seal the records relating to that portion of the case.
When information is restricted, it can still be accessed with permission from the judge in the case. If a person needs to see confidential information, that person will need to either move to unseal the entire case, or file a motion asking for access to the case records. The judge will hold a hearing on the motion, and will determine whether or not to grant access.
If you are concerned that private or confidential information will become available to the public during a divorce or other family law matter, speak with the attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law. We can make sure your records are redacted properly and can file motions on your behalf to seal portions of your divorce case. To learn more about your legal options, contact our office today by calling 360-926-9112.