A divorce can create havoc on a family regarding its finances, it can also exact an emotional and psychological toll upon its members. Nonetheless, 90 to 95 percent of all divorce cases settle. After legal costs, privacy concerns are probably one of the biggest reasons why divorcing couples settle. No one wants their financial history laid out, or their dirty laundry aired out for public consideration. However, because a divorce proceeding is a public proceeding all information within, you’re a divorce court file is available to the public. It is rather inexpensive to obtain copies of court filings from the courthouse and in some states, they are even available to be downloaded online. The following are some tips regarding protecting your privacy during a divorce:
1. Enter into an agreement with your spouse. During the beginning stages of the divorce process, it is not unusual for spouses to agree on maintaining confidentiality. In most cases, it is in both of divorcing spouses’ best interest to maintain privacy and confidentiality regarding their financial issues and other issues in a divorce case. Neither spouse wants his or her personal information and finances to be shared among co-workers, social media, or to be the fodder of public chatter or speculation in the press or elsewhere in public;
2. Discuss the importance of privacy with your children. This is one area where many couples fail in their quest to obtain privacy in their divorce cases. Children often understand and have more information about their divorcing parents then even their parents realize or comprehend. When struggling to cope with the divorce, it is natural for children (no matter how young or old) to seek comfort with friends, other family members, teachers, and other trusted authority figures. While you want to ensure that your children feel comfortable seeking emotional support, you must also let them know that maintaining your family’s privacy is important. Young children and well-intended adult children may not fully grasp the value of your privacy (and the types of information that should be kept private) until you help them understand what is important to you as a divorcing couple;
3. Thoroughly consider the alternatives to divorce litigation. Litigation is the greatest threat to privacy in a divorce. Divorce hearings and proceedings are generally opened to public scrutiny and may be attended by anyone. Consequently, it is important for a divorcing couple to consider their options other than litigation in a divorce case. Many couples look to mediation as a solution. But although, mediation may be considered confidential, it often occurs in the context of a litigated divorce or may result in a heavily contested litigated divorce. Unfortunately, private information from the mediation may be inadvertently or intentionally leaked during the public litigated divorce. Another option is collaborative divorce. In a collaborative divorce, an agreement is worked out with a team of two attorneys, a financial neutral and neutral facilitator. The couple remains in control of the process and makes decisions that work best for them and their family instead of having a judge (who is a stranger to their family) decide what will happen to their family and their future. When you are not fighting in court, divorcing couples are also able to make better decisions to benefit their children. And the parties learn how to communicate with each other civilly and productively. The team works together to avoid unnecessary conflict and moves the process forward. There are no costly evidentiary hearings, no status updates to the court, depositions or other litigation tools. No appearances occur until the end of the case when a final agreement is signed off by the parties. The collaborative process occurs during the course of a series of private meetings. The only individual participants in the meeting are the divorcing parties and the collaborative team members. For the collaborative divorce, only the final settlement document may be available publicly. In some states even these documents may be privately retained by the parties unless there is subsequent litigation concerning the enforcement or modification of the agreements.
4. In some states, there are a variety of options available for protecting the privacy of sensitive information contained in court filings if you litigate. Depending on the circumstances, divorcing spouse may be able to file a document under court seal, or a protective order or designate certain information as “confidential”. However, a divorcing couple needs to understand the avenues by which this kind of relief can be obtained are rather narrow. It often also requires notification of the press before the document can be sealed. Doing so rather defeats the whole purpose of trying to render a document under seal or render it under a confidential court order. In addition, even though a document may be sealed or rendered confidential by court order, we know from celebrity divorces that such information often has a way of percolating out into the public.
Divorce is a very stressful event for a family to go through. Collaborative divorce can greatly reduce the stress by providing parties with a team of professionals ready and able to take care of their legal, emotional, and financial needs through the process to provide them options so that they can decide on the results that best suit them and their family in the future. If an individual wants to avoid the stress of the courtroom and the litigation cost associated with a traditional divorce, absolute privacy and confidentiality during that process, then a collaborative divorce may be the answer.