– from Kevin T. in Delafield, WI

Question Details:

My wife and I have been married for nearly two decades. Within a few years of marriage we knew the marriage was bad, and we both started having affairs. Last year we finally decided to get a divorce. The proceedings were nasty and ugly. Fortunately we finally settled our case. This, however, did not happen until all the dirt about our affairs was spread all over the courthouse and all over town.

Additionally what also came out during the proceedings , was our private financial issues.  All these documents and records are included in the various court filings.

The only thing we finally agreed on is our want to get the records of our divorce case sealed. This process seems however to be very difficult. Why is it two adults cannot agree to make their dirt and finances off-limits to public record?

Family Law Attorney Response:

The federal courts of the United States as well as all of the state courts are open to public record. The First Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights as well as the various state constitutions give the public the right to read court records.

However individual states have addressed this issue by state legislation or court rule. Now, in certain states a judge can conduct a balancing test to protect both the public’s right to access court records as well as the rights of individuals' privacy concerns.

What this process does is seals only those divorce documents containing truly private or proprietary information.

The following factors are considered by a judge when sealing documents in matrimonial actions

  • whether a lawsuit has significant public significance
  • whether asserted harm comes to the litigants should there be no disclosure
  • whether there are alternate methods of providing the same privacy
  • whether the public interest is served by sealing the documents
  • whether the documents contain information that could expose private financial issues and cause harm to the parties
  • whether the information in the court file adversely affects the interests of children

When elements exist, motions can be made to seal certain documents during the proceedings.

If you need help or have further questions please feel free to give us a call or fill out our contact us form.

Lawyer Jeff Hughes from Sterling Law Offices, S.C.
Jeff Hughes, J.D.

Managing Partner

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