Divorce: Private or Public? Part Two: Family Secrets
With very few exceptions, anything filed with the court in a divorce case becomes a public record, so how can you protect yourself? Even though there are a lot of things you can’t keep to yourself, there may be others you can protect. The best way to keep personal details private is to work through your divorce in an out of court process like a Collaborative Divorce with your spouse so that you can choose together what is filed and how you do it.
Private Details of Life
Too often, people share too many details about their spouse in the public court forum, whether it is in declarations filed with the court, at a hearing for temporary orders, or at trial. Written documents and testimony recorded by a court reporter are kept in public court files indefinitely. While it may feel good in the moment to tell the world that your spouse cheated on your taxes and you have proof, you just admitted to signing taxes you knew were false; it was fine while you were married, but now that there’s a divorce, you suddenly recognize this was wrong and your spouse is to blame. Same thing for all the wild parties you went to, where alcohol flowed in abundance and pot was just a fun thing to do; where leaving your eight-year-old child alone for an hour and half while you went to the gym was never a concern before, now that you are in divorce court, it’s child neglect and makes you an unfit parent. And let’s not forget the mother of all, typically, not legally relevant accusations written in a public court document: the affair with your spouse’s best friend. Divorce cases often read like a soap opera. What may feel good or justified today, may feel less so when your child becomes an adult and decides to look up your divorce court file; or when your co-worker reads the details to make you look bad before a job promotion. In a collaborative divorce, you can air your grievances, working with family therapists to manage the strong emotions and pain stemming from your history together so that you can keep your private life private and move on to the next chapter in your life.
Your children are probably the most innocent of all “collateral damage” in a divorce, regardless of their age. When you file an agreed upon parenting plan for minor and/or disabled dependent adult children, you do not need to put in all the details about your children’s activities or your work schedule if you can come to an agreement beforehand. You need only file the parenting time-share agreement with the Court, so that the judge knows what to enforce if there is a later disagreement or breach of the agreements. Usually, no one needs to know that you have specific reasons for your agreed-on schedule.
When it comes to adult children, often there are financial ties such as college expenses and accounts, loans, or even holding on to the family home because an adult child is living with the parent in the home. It can feel like a breach of privacy including your adult child’s name and financial needs in a public divorce court document. Some of this information can be kept private if you make the necessary arrangements with the help of your lawyers, neutral financial specialist, and family specialist in a Collaborative Divorce process.