Sealing Divorce Records

Any divorce case in Florida requires both parties to disclose a large amount of sensitive and personal information. The financial affidavit that must be filed with every divorce petition and response asks for information about income, monthly bills, property owned, other assets and liabilities and whether there is a child support order for children not a part of the present divorce.

This is certainly not information that most people would want known outside close family circles, and does not take into account additional information that becomes part of the divorce record if there are allegations of wrongdoing by either party. This concern about releasing such personal, private information into the public domain recently appeared in the news in connection with the divorce of Alabama’s governor. While the divorce record was initially sealed, it was ultimately reopened after lawsuits were filed by the media; this story serves as a reminder of the value of privacy over financial information.

How to Seal a Record

First, it is important to understand that all documents filed with a court in a divorce case and any decisions issued by the judge are typically available for the public to view. While there is a substantial list of different types of information that are automatically confidential under Florida law, financial disclosures are not included on this list. Thus, if you want to keep the records confidential and not available for public access, it is necessary to file a separate petition requesting to seal the records.

What You Have to Demonstrate

There are several grounds a court may use to justify keeping records of a particular case confidential. The ones that could be applicable in a divorce case include:

  • to “prevent a serious and imminent threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice;”
  • to protect evidence for use in another case;
  • to avert significant injury to an innocent third party (information related to minor child would likely qualify for this exception); and
  • to prevent considerable injury to a party through disclosure of information protected under common law or privacy rights.

When deciding what to label as confidential, the judge is supposed to limit the amount and type of information sealed from the public to what is absolutely necessary to preserve the interests listed above. Sealing the record must also be the only way to adequately protect these interests. What this means is the judge may or may not seal all of the requested records, and those not specifically labeled as confidential by the court are still publicly available. Consequently, it is best to tailor the request to specific information, rather than a blanket demand to close the entire record.

It is worth noting that bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers are exempt from the public record starting in 2012. Previously, parties had to request a redaction of the information from the court.

Speak to a Lawyer

Going through the process of divorce is not easy, and fear about everyone having access to your personal information compounds the emotional impact. If keeping your information confidential is a high priority, working with an attorney from the outset with this consideration in mind is crucial to keeping information in the record to as limited as possible. Stok Kon + Braverman, has extensive experience in representing clients in divorce cases in Florida and knows about the types of information that could be at issue. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.