Many people contemplating divorce fear the messiness and embarrassment of a high-conflict, public divorce. This is a compelling reason to pursue an out-of-court dissolution of your marriage, rather than a litigated divorce.
Generally speaking, documents filed with the court in a divorce become public record. Clients frequently ask us how readily the public can access those filed documents. Each county clerk of courts has its own system for accessing documents filed in a lawsuit. Some courts make their documents available to the public online, while some courts restrict online access. With a few exceptions, these documents are accessible in person at a county clerk of courts.
Most spouses who have decided to end their marriage do not wish to make the details of their finances, nor the issues in their marriage, a matter of public record.
How collaborative divorce can protect your privacy
In contrast to an adversarial divorce that takes place in a courtroom, a collaborative dissolution of your marriage is accomplished by way of private meetings, with each attendee at these meetings required to sign a contract indicating that the content of those meetings remains confidential. This allows spouses going through the end of their marriage to have open and honest conversations, without worrying that the general public – or perhaps one day their children – will be privy to the issues being discussed.
In order for a state to recognize the legal termination of your marriage, certain documents must be provided to the court – generally, a separation agreement, outlining the agreed-upon division of your finances, and a parenting plan, outlining provisions related to the care of any minor children. The documents provided to the court generally become part of the public record. This is true even in a collaborative dissolution.
In a litigated divorce, a court is asked to review the details of the spouses’ finances and make a decision about how to divide those finances. In order to do so, the spouses must provide the court with significant financial information – their incomes, their bank and investment account statements, their retirement statements, their tax returns, etc.
On the contrary, in a collaborative dissolution where these financial decisions are discussed and agreed upon by the spouses, the financial information can be exchanged outside of court, greatly limiting what information becomes part of the public record. When it comes time to submit required documents to the court, lawyers have the ability to redact – or altogether limit – what financial information becomes part of the public record.
There are many benefits to pursuing a collaborative dissolution of your marriage. The potential of privacy and confidentiality on the most personal issues is but one benefit.