Why (and How) to Keep Your Divorce Private

By Randall B. Pitler, Pitler Family Law & Mediation, P.C.

July 2022

Going through a divorce can be ugly. You may not want the reasons for the breakdown of your marriage—along with sensitive information about your income and assets—to become part of the public record.

While it's not a divorce, the very public trial involving former spouses Johnny Depp and Amber Heard can serve as Exhibit A as to why you may want to handle things privately. Regardless of Johnny’s “win”, personal information about both parties have been disclosed and will remain in the public domain forever.

By divorcing amicably, you can keep your private business out of the public eye. Below, we discuss how you can keep your divorce as private as possible.

Avoid Putting Your Divorce on the Public Record

Most court proceedings, including divorce proceedings, are public. In Michigan, most court records are available online, and someone who is curious about your divorce could access copies of all of the documents filed with the court, including the settlement agreement and Judgment of Divorce. This means your neighbors or family members can access your personal information with the click of a mouse.

Fortunately, there are a couple of different ways you can keep your divorce private:

  • Request that the court file your records under seal
  • Try an alternative divorce method, like a “one lawyer,” collaborative divorce or mediation
  • Sign confidentiality documents that will prevent your ex-spouse from discussing details of the divorce

You should also avoid speaking to non-professionals about the circumstances of your divorce. Attorneys, therapists, doctors, and financial professionals have duties of confidentiality that will prevent them from discussing the details of your divorce with others. Friends and family members have no such duty, and you could find your divorce becoming a topic of conversation if you rely on others for the advice or assistance a professional can provide.

Sealing Your Divorce Records

In some circumstances, it may be possible to file some or all of your divorce papers under seal. However, the decision of whether to seal documents is usually within a judge's discretion, and the standard to have this request granted is a high one, and very few requests, usually to protect information regarding minor children, or victims of domestic abuse, are granted.

You can also include a confidentiality agreement in your Judgment of Divorce, barring both of you from discussing the details of your divorce to third parties.  However, this provision is still just a piece of paper, and once the information is disclosed, you will not be able to keep it private any further.

Alternative Divorce Methods

The only way to pretty much guarantee that your divorce details are kept under wraps is to pursue an alternative to traditional divorce proceedings, to make sure no private information ends up in the court file. This can include a collaborative divorce, mediation, or a “one lawyer” divorce. Collaborative divorce, in particular, is a confidential process that keeps all information private to you, your ex-spouse, and your respective attorneys.

Mediation can be a confidential way to settle a divorce. In mediation, all parties will come together, with the help of a mediator, to discuss how they can compromise on settlement terms—custody, parenting time, the division of assets, and other matters. Once a settlement agreement is reached, the mediator will reduce it to writing where both spouses and their attorneys can sign it.

Finally, in a uncontested or “one lawyer” divorce, you and your spouse reach an agreement outside of the court process and retain a single attorney to draft the necessary documents for court.  Since you enter the court process with an agreement, you do not have to participate in “discovery” where you exchange your personal financial information, keeping that information out of the public record.

If you'd like to keep your divorce private, an experienced amicable divorce attorney can help. Don't file divorce papers without discussing your situation with a legal professional.   

Please learn more at www.AmicableDivorce.com

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