It’s easy enough to overlook. When your head is spinning, your heart is shredded, and your entire world is falling apart, keeping your private life out of public divorce records is not something you are probably thinking about.
Yet, it matters – and not just if you ever plan on running for public office.
Employers today routinely run background checks on job applicants. While you may think that a potential employer clearly won’t care about your past marital history, if that history includes allegations of domestic abuse, adultery, alcoholism, or addiction, you better think again.
Even if you are a model citizen, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about anything in your divorce. Contested divorces can get ugly very fast. People (especially spouses embroiled in a divorce war) often say things that are less than 100% true.
Hopefully, if your spouse lies about you in court, you will be able to prove your innocence. But sometimes the truth is hard to prove in court. Plus, even if you do prove you did nothing wrong, that doesn’t mean that years later the court record of what happened will be clear.
Often, what happens in court is that one party files a petition claiming that his/her spouse did all kinds of horrible things. Before the judge rules on the issues, the case is settled. So the only thing in the court file is the document with all of the horrible allegations in it. No one ever knows whether the allegations were actually true or not.
Or maybe the judge actually held a hearing and found that the allegations against you were untrue. In all likelihood, the judge will enter an order that simply says, “Petition denied.” It may not say that you did nothing wrong.
True, most people understand that, just because somebody’s ex filed court papers claiming that they were guilty of all kinds of terrible things, that doesn’t mean that they actually did any of them. But, employers are human. Once they see those kinds of allegations against you in public divorce records, the seeds of doubt have been planted.
You can’t “un-know” information once it’s in your head.
Are All Divorce Records Public Information?
Courts in the United States are open to the public. Divorce records are public information. Anyone can look at any court file they want, usually whenever they want to look at it.
In the past, that may not have mattered much. Like the Ark of the Covenant that Indiana Jones buried in a government warehouse, finding court documents (especially old court documents) used to be a chore.
Today, though, that has changed.
In today’s digital, hyper-connected world, it is relatively simple for anyone to access someone’s divorce court records. If you’re not technologically savvy enough to do it yourself, for under $100 you can hire an agency to do a background check on whoever you want.
If you value your privacy at all (or if you just prefer not to air your dirty laundry in public) what are you supposed to do? How can you keep your private life, private?
2 ways to Keep Your Private Life Out of Public Divorce Records
The problem with divorce is that the only one who can divorce you is a judge. That means that, if you want to end your marriage, at some point you (or your lawyer) has to go to court to do it. You have no other choice.
Since every document you file in court automatically becomes a public record, it might seem that there is no way you can keep your divorce private. To a certain extent, that’s true. No matter who you are, or what you do, if you get divorced, there will be a record of your divorce in court.
But, there is a big difference between filing standard documents with simple “boilerplate” language, and filing motion after motion full of allegations about how your spouse is an alcoholic, and abusive, and has done a whole host of horrible things.
People will always be able to discover that you got divorced. But, they may not be able to discover much more than that.
Here are two ways you can control your public divorce records:
1.Ask the Court to put your documents under seal.
Filing documents “under seal” is a procedure for keeping sensitive or confidential information out of the public record. While this may sound like the perfect way for you to keep your divorce information private, the truth is that before you can do this, you have to get permission from a judge. Unless you happen to be wealthy, well-known or well-connected, persuading a judge to seal your divorce court records is not likely to be easy. Judges are responsible for maintaining “the public record.” Most judges take that responsibility very seriously. So, for most average folks, getting their divorce put under seal is just not going to happen.
2.Stay out of court.
If you settle your divorce issues with your spouse outside of court, then the documents you file in court can be fairly “vanilla.” They will contain the information that they absolutely need to contain for legal purposes, and nothing more. If you and your spouse agree, you can also ask a judge to remove truly sensitive and personal information (especially financial account information, or information that could negatively affect your children) from the court file. Even if you are not rich or famous, a judge is usually willing to grant this kind of limited request to keep certain information private. (While you can also try to remove your personal information from the court file in a contested case, you will have a much harder time convincing a judge to do that for you, especially if your spouse objects.)
It’s All About What You Know
No matter who you are, you have the power to keep most of your divorce information private. But, like so many other things in divorce, doing so is a choice. The only one who can make that choice is you.
If you want to keep your private life out of the public record, you have to take the steps you need to take to do so. For most people, that means staying out of court.
What’s more, you need to stay out of court from the very beginning of your divorce. Once you have filed reams of paperwork in court, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get permission to take those documents out of the court file.
Do you care whether your divorce records become public information? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. What’s important is that you take the time to answer that question before you get divorced.
Worried about what else you don’t know about divorce? CLICK THE BUTTON below and get your FREE DIVORCE CHECKLIST.