The Collaborative Divorce Center

Divorce Decisions: Private vs. Public Approach to Finances

Divorce: Private or Public? Part One: Financial Information

Divorce can be difficult no matter the circumstances. What you may not know is how much of your personal matter and financial information becomes public, available to any and everyone who can get to the courthouse or use a computer. This includes your children, co-workers, and friends. Many times, it can be difficult to know what can stay private and what will be made public. Here is what in a divorce can be kept private and what will be entirely public.

Can a Divorce Really Be Private?

Unfortunately, once you involve the courts with your marriage, it can be difficult to maintain any sense of privacy. Your divorce petition (the documents that open the case) will be a public record. In these documents, the reason for your divorce is most often stated as “Irreconcilable differences”, so no big revelation there but sometimes spouses choose to include many many private details of what they believe is the reason for the divorce. If you cannot agree on a divorce settlement, you and your spouse will need to file financial records and other documents directly in the court proceedings. Anything filed with the court becomes part of the public court file including a financial affidavit which is required to list all of your assets and liabilities! If you end up in a trial, you may need to disclose a lot of uncomfortable information here as well, often far more detailed and well beyond just financial information; anyone over 18 can sit in and watch the trial.

It can be uncomfortable to share the details of your financial accounts with the world. Instead of filing the financial disclosures with your statements, tax returns, and pay stubs attached, you can serve these on your spouse and file a single-page court form that tells the court you complied with the disclosure requirements. This document is signed under penalty of perjury, attesting that you made full and complete disclosure. You keep the details of your finances private and are still protected in the event your spouse was less than honest. How? If you later learn that your spouse “forgot” the million and half they stashed in the Cayman Islands, you can, at that point in time, file the disclosures your spouse served on you (making them public record) to prove to the court that your spouse did not make full and honest disclosure; the Court would have the ability to impose the appropriate penalties. So, you are still legally protected, without having to make your financial information public, unless absolutely necessary.

When it comes to your final agreements, again, you can keep the details of your financials private depending on the situation. For most cases, you can have a written agreement that simply states “wife agrees to 50% of Chase account ending in 1692” instead of putting in all the details. In high-profile divorces, or situations that require greater privacy (such as a privately held company about to go public), parties can file an agreement that eliminates the sensitive financial information completely, referencing a more detailed agreement signed by the parties that will only be filed for purposes of clarification needed by the court or enforcement.

When you decide as a couple to work together, you can solve a lot of problems, while keeping sensitive information private. While this is a significant benefit, it doesn’t come easy when emotions are high, blame is “clear”, and you want your pound of flesh; unfortunately, emotional reactions often result in regret. Working with a professional collaborative team helps keep you focused on what is best for your children and your emotional and financial well-being. Learning these new ways of interacting early will ultimately benefit everyone for many years.

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