Your divorce may be one of the most stressful and embarrassing life events you will ever face. After all, there are probably some sordid details that make neither you nor your soon-to-be ex-spouse look particularly good. Unfortunately, in California, divorce records are part of the public record. As such, anyone who wants to learn about the dissolution of your marriage may be able to gain access.
Keeping your divorce out of the public eye may be an uphill battle, but it is not impossible. In fact, in certain circumstances, you may be able to convince a judge to seal some or all of your divorce records. Before doing so, though, you should understand the legal obstacles to securing your privacy.
When judges typically seal family court records
The legal tradition in California involves shining light on court proceedings. While you may want to keep your divorce private, the Golden State has an interest in making court records public. That is, public records keep the courts accountable. They also provide transparency to California’s judicial system, helping to elevate its reputation in public opinion. Still, not all family court records become public. Generally, judges shield the following types of divorce records from public view:
- Records that reveal the identities of children
- Records that reveal proprietary business information
- Records that reveal the identities of domestic violence victims
- Records that reveal Social Security numbers, bank accounts and other sensitive data
When judges seal additional records
Judges follow a presumption that divorce proceedings should become part of the public record. You may be able to overcome this presumption, however. If you can prove that the release of embarrassing, libelous or slanderous information is likely to cause you more harm than the public would face for not having access to the information, you may be able to convince a judge to seal your divorce records. Note, however, judges are likely to narrowly tailor their order to protect only the most harmful information. As such, you likely increase your chances of success by requesting the judge to seal only extremely sensitive parts of your divorce proceedings.
Keeping your divorce records out of the public eye is not an easy task. Still, if the consequences of the release of private information are likely to cause you substantial harm, you may be able to keep part of your divorce records away from the public.