How to Seal a Divorce Record
By Heather Frances J.D.
Most court records, including divorce records and other lawsuits, are public. As public records, anyone can access them for any reason, even if they’re just being nosy. While states generally want their judicial system open so that the citizens of a community can hold their courts and neighbors accountable, states also recognize there are certain times when a person’s involvement in a case is of such a nature that it is appropriate to seal that case’s record.
Reasons for Sealing
Courts must have a reason to seal a divorce record. For example, if the case involves child or sexual abuse, the case may be sealed to protect the identity of the victim. Some courts may seal records to keep financial disclosures private, to protect business information or prevent the disclosure of allegations later proven false. Courts typically will not seal records simply because the contents are embarrassing.
Divorce records are public by default, meaning a spouse who wants her case’s records sealed, with or without her ex-spouse’s agreement, must request the court seal them by filing a motion. If both spouses want the records sealed, they can file a joint motion, but the court will not seal the records just because both spouses request it. Though state laws vary, the requesting spouse must show “good cause” to seal the records or that the damage she will suffer if the records are public outweighs the need to keep records public. Courts may consider the subject matter of the records, the harm they could cause if made public and the public’s interest in having records remain public.
Since courts typically prefer not to seal records, they may be more likely to seal a portion of the record rather than the whole thing. Thus, a spouse requesting the court to seal a record can seek to seal only the information that will cause her damage. For example, if the spouse wants her financial information kept secret, she can request the court seal only the financial affidavits in the record.
Waiver of Filing
It may not be necessary for spouses to request to have their records sealed, particularly if there are only certain details they want kept out of public records. In some jurisdictions, such as Florida, courts can waive the requirements for spouses to file certain documents if the spouses request it, thereby permitting the spouses to keep sensitive information out of the record completely. Since the information never makes it into the court record, the spouses won’t need to request the court seal the record.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.