Updated on August 23, 2022
Even in the best of situations, divorce is hard. If your divorce is high profile or involves details that you'd rather keep private, however, it can feel that much more difficult.
You do not have to be wealthy or be a celebrity to want to keep your divorce records under wraps. Similarly, you do not have to be a celebrity for others to be interested in your private matters. There are a number of practical reasons why you might want to keep the information contained in your court records as private as you possibly can.
Whatever makes your divorce fodder for the attention of the outside world, high-profile divorces can be especially arduous. If you are motivated to keep the details of your divorce confidential, there are things that you can do, and your most important first step should be to seek the experienced legal counsel of a Central Texas divorce lawyer.
The Classification of Legal Documents in Texas
Legal documents in Texas are grouped into one of four specific categories:
Public documents are documents that anyone can view.
Confidential documents are documents that are restricted to viewing by the parties involved and by their attorneys of record.
Restricted documents are documents that are both marked and filed as “sensitive” material.
Sealed documents are documents that are sealed and that are not available for viewing.
Depending on what is going on with your divorce, you may have a reason to keep certain information and documents as private as possible. This is best accomplished through the professional efforts of an experienced Central Texas divorce lawyer.
Texas Divorce: The Status Quo
Typically, Texas divorce records are open records, which means that the general public has access to everything that you and your divorcing spouse file. The motivation behind this open-book policy is transparency; the Texas judiciary system aims for accountability and transparency.
The fact remains, however, that some divorce documents are kept more private than others. If discretion is paramount when it comes to your divorce, you need the skilled services of an experienced Central Texas divorce attorney.
To restrict your divorce documents, begin by designating (via markings at the top) each pleading as containing sensitive data. Such information can include birthdates, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and additional personal information. Flagging documents as such does not seal the documents, but it does keep them from being posted on the court’s website.
The objective is to prevent individuals who are motivated to harm a party to divorce from obtaining any more information than must necessarily be made public. As such, typically only the final identifying digits of a person’s important numbers (social security number, bank account numbers, etc.) are provided.
Sealing a Court File
There is a mechanism for sealing a court file from public view, but the system for doing so can be quite onerous. Because there is a presumption that court records should remain open to the public, anyone attempting to seal a court record faces the burden of proving that there is a compelling reason for doing so.
To seal a court record, you must be able to demonstrate a serious, substantial, and specific reason that is more compelling than the presumption of maintaining open records. Finally, the court does not seal an entire file—instead, you must meet the necessary burden of proof for every portion of every record you want to be sealed. In other words, it’s complicated.
Once a file is sealed, however, it remains unavailable for public consumption unless it successfully undergoes the process of being unsealed, which involves all of the following steps:
The appropriate motion is filed.
The court orders that the file in question be unsealed and made available to the public.
There are some instances in which parties to a divorce have adequate legal reasons to keep the proceedings confidential. The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure outline when such a determination is appropriate. If the prevailing judge rules with you, you can keep your divorce documents sealed and confidential.
For help understanding if you are able to keep your divorce proceedings confidential, contact a Central Texas divorce lawyer. He or she will help you evaluate your situation and find the best path forward for you.
Family Law Cases and Exceptions
Fortunately, the records that are filed under Family Code are not held to the same stringent standards in relation to file sealing. If you are motivated to seal a file that relates to your family law issue—such as divorce, child custody, child support, or any other family law concern—you can ask the court to seal the file. In turn, the court’s discretion in the matter is nearly complete.
Because of the important privacy implications inherent to such files, requests to seal them are often granted by the courts. An important exception, however, is that any Orders or Opinions provided by the court in the course of your family law matter may not be sealed from public viewing.
If Keeping Your Divorce Documents Private Is Important to You, You Need an Experienced Central Texas Divorce Attorney
If you have reason to keep your divorce documents private, don’t lose hope. Texas does have Rules of Procedure in place that can help you keep your divorce confidential. The dedicated legal team at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Central Texas understands your concerns, and is here to help. For more information, please contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222.