Can Divorce Records Be Sealed?
The short answer is no. Typically divorce records cannot be sealed in Utah. Call Ascent Law for your Free Consultation to see if your case can qualify. Divorce proceedings can sometimes become very sensitive depending on the grounds for filing for divorce. There are several reasons why one might decide to end a marriage and sometimes these reasons might be too private for public viewing. Normally court proceedings are usually open to the public and in most states, such proceedings include divorce cases.
This simply means that the court, unless requested otherwise, files the divorce cases under public jurisdiction.
Sometimes in order to protect the proceedings, the parties involved can request the court to seal the records for purposes of protecting the identities of the participants. Divorce records can be sealed either in whole or in part.
The divorce process typically begins when a spouse takes legal action of filing for the annulment of his or her marriage. Regardless of whether the divorce is mutual for both parties, one person will have to file for a petition which clearly outlines the reasons for divorce. The grounds for divorce usually differ depending on the state laws. Your divorce attorney should be able to take you through legal grounds for divorce that will make a strong case.
The spouse who presents the petition should also provide evidence of service of process to show that the other person received the divorce documents. The spouse who is given the service of the process then needs to file for a petition in response either to dispute the reasons for divorce or take defense on the grounds for divorce.
Reasons for sealing divorce records
If you provide valid reasons as to why you would want your records to be sealed, then the judge might rule in your favor. Common reasons include but are not limited to the following.
Children are usually affected the most during a divorce. The separation of the parents is frightening for kids especially those who are used to doing things together as a family. Making public their identifications can affect their social lives. They might get picked on at school or in social places. Life should be as normal as possible to such children because they still have a long way to go and so divorce records should be able to provide their details.
Victims of domestic violence
When marriage becomes unbearable as a result of an abusive spouse, sometimes the only way out is divorce. When grounds for divorce is stated as domestic violence, such proceedings can be made private. This is because the victim might be stigmatized by the public. Such information is quite sensitive and should be kept away from the public while taking into consideration the welfare of the victim.
The court might decide to redact certain information from your divorce records. Your social security number is personal information that should be kept away from the public to prevent someone else from accessing and misusing it. Bank account information should also remain private because such information can be used against you by people with ulterior motives.
Sensitive business information
There are sensitive business data that can affect one’s organization if allowed public access. Such information is usually provided during divorce settlements for one reason or another. If your business information containing profit percentages, working formulas, and names of clients is damaging to your firm then the court might seal them.
When there are false allegations mentioned about you in a court proceeding then you can request your records to be sealed. Such information can be damaging to your reputation especially if made public.
There are couples who prefer to keep private the mental state of those involved especially if a spouse suffers from mental illness. Making public such sensitive information might affect their career and social life. This usually the case for people who hold public office or celebrities.
Addictions can cause a marriage to come to an end. When one’s addictions are made public records especially for popular individuals then the results might be devastating. This information can be sealed to prevent the public from finding out.
Factors that the court considers before sealing records
The court’s decision on whether to seal your records will depend on its importance to the public. Will the public gain something from your records? The judicial system works in such a way that public access to information should not be hindered. If your records do not have much significance to the society then your request might go through.
Harm to those involved
The details of your case are very important when petitioning the system to seal your records. If you feel that your divorce records might bring you harm in any way, then this should be grounds for petitioning the court to make them private. Danger can be as a result of providing your personal information to the public which can allow access to your home or business. This is usually the case with public figures.
There are those high profile cases which are usually followed closely by the public. The interest of the public should be served except in rare cases where certain information cannot be made public. This factor is usually taken into consideration when making a ruling as to whether to seal divorce records or not.
Sensitive information regarding the couples financial standing or business contained in the proceedings can be damaging if made public. This can be an argument to be raised when asking for the records to be sealed.
Risk of identity theft
If there is a high risk of identity theft as a result of releasing information that contains your social security number, bank account, driver’s license, and healthcare information. Such information can be dangerous when it gets into wrong hands. This is especially the case for individuals with a high net worth.
Importance of public access to records
Records are usually made public by the judicial system to allow access to court proceedings. Transparency is an important attribute in handling public cases. The public should be able to determine what affects the decisions made by the court in a given case.
A request to seal divorce records should clearly outline the dangers involved as a result of making the proceedings public. The reasons should bear more weight compared to the rights given to the public to access information.
The request should be narrowly tailored
This simply means that your petition should be drafted in such a way that only key information should be redacted. There is some information which can be made public other than sensitive data about social security number, address, bank account information, names of minors and mental health among others.
Courts only agree to seal certain information only and not the entire record. The parties involved should be able to outline their privacy concern as well as request the court to seal a given portion of the document. You will have increased chances of getting your requests approved compared to requesting for sealing of the whole document while providing vague privacy concerns.
Process of sealing divorce proceedings
It is easier for your request to pull through if both spouses are in agreement to seal the divorce records. You can first begin by discussing the matter with your spouse. Working as a team on this that make the process faster. Seek the help of an experienced family law attorney preferable the one handling your divorce to help you file a motion.
The first step involves drafting an affidavit which clearly outlines your reasons for wanting your proceedings to be sealed. An affidavit is a legal document written under oath that is presented to the court. A good reason to put in your affidavit could be to prevent your business information that includes asset and income information from the public. Another reason might be to protect your children who might be suffering from a particular condition that needs to be kept private.
The affidavit should be signed in the presence of a notary public. This makes your document legal and valid to be used in a court of law. Your official signature makes the document official showing that you are the person responsible for filing the motion.
The motion should be written in a way that requests the court to redact the divorce proceedings or part of the document. You should be able to specify what sections of the divorce document you want the court to seal. At this point, it is important to take note that your motion is highly likely to be accepted if you want only certain parts of the document to be redacted. You might be able to find numerous motion forms at the clerk’s office. The motion is presented together with the affidavit which will be referenced accordingly.
If your spouse is in agreement with the motion to seal your divorce records, then it would be appropriate to include it in the motion. You should file your motion by handing it over to the clerk of the court.
Your attorney should be able to request a hearing once the motion has been filed. The date of the hearing is usually presented by the clerk of the court or in some cases the administrative assistant of the judge. Having a set date of the hearing allows your legal team to fully prepare for the case and gather all the necessary information to make a winning argument.
You should be present at the hearing as your attorney presents relevant arguments that are in favor of your motion to seal the court records. The judge will then provide a verdict after considering your arguments.
If the judge rules in your favor, then the order will be signed and your records will be filed separately in a private area away from public access.
Process of unsealing divorce records
There are times where one would want their divorce records to be unsealed. This is usually the case when the spouses were not in agreement to seal the proceedings. You should have a very compelling reason that would convince the judge to unseal the records.
The first step is to identify what the law states about unsealing records in your State. You should conduct thorough research either online on in person. Be sure to understand what is required before pushing forward with your decision.
Seek professional help
It is always good to play it safe by consulting with a family law attorney. You will be able to present a strong case if you have legal support from an experienced lawyer. It will also take less time if you are working with a legal expert compared to going at it alone.
Draft a motion
You might find motion forms at the courthouse or you can find one online which you can personalize with the help of your lawyer. The motion should be notarized to make it legal, you will be able to find notaries at the courthouse. Carry all your supporting documents such as a passport or driver’s license.
You can choose to file the motion on your own or through your lawyer. If you are doing it alone, then you should ensure that you are submitting it at the right court, where the documents are sealed. You will be directed by the court clerk to the right place to deliver the motion.
You should provide notice to all the parties involved in the case if it includes information about a given lawsuit. The information should be made known to all who are involved and can be affected by the motion.
Regardless of whether you want to seal or unseal your divorce records, if the motion fails, then you can always file for an appeal. The law concerning sealing divorce records differs from one state to another. Most records regarding divorce and marriages are usually accessible to the public. It is important to note that sealed records do not usually remain sealed depending on the reasons why they were redacted.
If your motion to seal divorce records is successful, then you should always double check to ensure that the information which you wanted to be sealed is actually filed under seal.
Divorce Attorney Free Consultation
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506