We see it all the time in the media. Magazines, TV shows, and websites have made a cottage industry sharing the salacious details of celebrity splits. It’s a tabloid staple; the public can’t get enough.
You probably don’t have paparazzi following your every move, but that doesn’t mean privacy during divorce, and afterward, isn’t important to you and your family.
Are Divorce Records Public?
In short, yes, court proceedings are generally matters of public record. Including divorce.
This means that various documents are out there for the taking. Divorce certificates and divorce decrees are among those available to the public. If you have the time, desire, a few dollars for fees, and specific details about a person, just about anyone can access this information.
There are multiple ways to collect divorce records:
- You can go through the government.
- Private companies also delve into the available databases for you, for a cost.
- And sometimes all it takes is an in-depth Google search to locate what you’re looking for.
The more information a person has, the easier it becomes to track down divorce records. Name, date of birth, and the state where a divorce took place all serve to narrow down a search.
Why Do You Need Divorce Records?
While this may sound like shady business, there are legitimate reasons for tracking down divorce records.
- Name Change: Following a divorce, many people want to distance themselves from their marriage. Name changes are common. In order to alter your name on a state-issued ID, the title of a vehicle, or the deed to a home, you may need a divorce certificate.
- Remarriage: Second marriages are commonplace. You may need to show proof that you’re no longer married to receive a marriage license. A divorce certificate offers one way to verify that fact.
- Researching Ancestry: It’s easier than ever to go online and explore your family tree. Divorce records are often a substantial piece of people’s research into their lineage. You can trace distant relations, search for unknown relatives, and learn about the lives of various ancestors.
- Legal Matters: If your ex fails to abide by the terms of the settlement, you may need to take legal action. A divorce decree lays out the specifics of your split in explicit detail. Before taking legal action, it’s important to double check the terms. While this is the type of document you should keep in a safe place, that doesn’t always happen. Documents get lost and sometimes you need a new copy.
Exceptions to the Rule
Though divorce records do generally fall into the public sphere, there are exceptions. These often involve children and their welfare.
In cases that include minors, their best interests generally take precedence over other concerns. As such, the court can keep these records confidential.
These situations usually serve to protect the identity of children or to safeguard the victims of abuse.
Once the court seals these records, the documents will no longer be accessible to the public. The information then remains private. A court can order that all of your records be sealed or a portion, depending on the circumstances and what’s being protected.
Sealing Divorce Records
In other cases, the court can seal records, thus protecting privacy during divorce and afterward. Like Mel B., couples going through a divorce can request that their records be sealed. In most cases, you have to ask for it.
The courts rarely seal divorce records on their own. One or both parties involved in the case must make the request and file the application. You can do it on your own or work in tandem with your soon-to-be ex.
After looking over your application, the judge will ultimately rule on whether or not to seal your divorce records. In order to get this decision, you must show that the damage done by leaving this information public outweighs court documents being available for public scrutiny.
People have the right to know what happens in the courts. Transparency is a vital part of the process, so courts are often reluctant to seal documents without substantial justification.
Reasons To Seal Divorce Records
A judge isn’t going to rule to seal divorce records simply because they might reveal embarrassing information to the public. You can’t go this route just because you don’t want people to see the sordid details of your split.
Common reasons people request sealed court records are to protect the identity of children and victims of abuse, to safeguard sensitive details like bank records and social security numbers, and to shield information about businesses.
If a case features false accusations against one party, allegations that may damage a person’s reputation or constitute libel, the courts may also consider that. But again, just because you find certain information embarrassing or uncomfortable, that’s not reason enough.
Protect Privacy During Divorce
It’s amazing what is and isn’t part of the public record. Divorce documents are certainly out there and available. Privacy during divorce is important. An intensely personal time, you don’t want people rooting around in your business.
Fortunately, you’re probably not a celebrity, so your every move isn’t in the public eye. But you can still safeguard yourself, even without a judge closing court proceedings.
- Keep a low profile.
- Don’t broadcast details of your divorce all over social media.
- Know that anything you write, Tweet, or text can come into play in your case.
- Most importantly, be smart about what you put out into the world during this time.
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