If you are considering divorce, you may wonder what happens to the records produced by a divorce trial. Are they public records like most court cases? Is there a way to keep things private?
Traditionally Arizona, like other U.S. jurisdictions, has started with the presumption that court records should generally be open to the public. This is done in an effort to promote open government and an informed citizenry.
That means that someone who had the motive and time could access the records of your divorce trial. If you are a person of note, this could be done to create news about your case. If not, the records are still available to researchers, court staff and family members, including your children.
There are some circumstances, however, when parts of your record could be closed to the public. For example, under Arizona law, confidential and personal financial records are closed from public view unless the court orders otherwise.
That’s good news, but what about other records? Courts can sometimes order that otherwise public records should be closed if the information could promote false allegations, expose victims of domestic violence, or reveal proprietary business information, for example.
Requests to close records must be narrowly tailored
Since courts presume that court cases should be a matter of public record, they usually don’t take it upon themselves to close or seal their records. Instead, one or both divorcing parties needs to make a request.
After a request to close the records has been made, the court will generally weigh the potential damage from public disclosure against the presumption that court cases should be open to public scrutiny. The court will also ask whether the request is narrowly tailored to prevent the potential damage of publication while maximizing public access.
The fact that the request must be narrowly tailored may mean that the records will be redacted rather than completely closed to the public.
Minimize the public’s information by negotiating your divorce
Outside of getting your divorce records broadly sealed, which is unlikely, it is likely that at least some private things will be revealed in a divorce trial and become part of the public record.
You can minimize the public’s access to your divorce records, however, by negotiating a divorce settlement agreement instead of going to trial.
With no trial, there is no room for false allegations to be entered into the record. Without a trial, the details of your property division, the decisions about parental decision-making and parenting time, and the process behind your alimony decision are your private business. The only document of substance in the court’s record will be your divorce agreement and the associated decree.
If you have questions about having court records closed to the public in your case, talk to your divorce attorney.