A divorce is a very personal and intimate thing to have to go through. Although it involves the legal process of a dissolution of marriage in California, it is still something very personal to your and your family. While your marriage is ending, you have to handle the business side of divorce, which involves dividing all community assets and debts, arranging for spousal support and scheduling your parental time with your child. These are all very personal aspects of a divorce.
Unfortunately, under California law, most court records, even family law records, are a matter of public record. In the tradition of population monitoring, marriage and divorce records are public. Keeping these kinds of record public also ensures transparency of the court system.
Why are Divorce Documents Public Record?
It can be difficult to imagine the advantages of divorce documents being available to the public. However, there are legitimate reasons for doing so, including:
- Name changes. Upon a divorce, many spouses request a name change. A copy of a divorce certificate may be necessary to alter one’s name on a state-issued ID, the title of a vehicle, or the deed to a home.
- Remarriage. To remarry, proof of a legal divorce is usually required. A divorce certificate is one means of legal verification of a divorce.
- Researching ancestry. Divorce records are a means of researching one’s ancestry and tracing lineage.
- Future legal action. When ex-spouses do not abide by the terms of divorce decrees and original copies of divorce decrees are lost, having decrees as public record allows one to procure and check the terms of their own decree easily.
When are Divorce Documents Not Accessible to the Public?
There are times when divorce decrees are not accessible to the public. Certain family law documents, including divorce decrees, that contain sensitive information can be filed under a sealed cover. These records generally include:
- Health information
- Financial documents
- Identifying information about children or victims of domestic or sexual violence
- Paternity information
One must have prior court approval to seal anything outside of these commonly sealed documents. This can be obtained through a motion or application to seal. If a person is unable to file a document under seal, they may be able to redact certain pieces of information such as bank account numbers and social security numbers. Redaction is the marking out of sensitive data in certain documents, leaving only general information. Today, redaction is a good way to prevent your bank account information from being publicly available, protecting you, in part, from identify theft. With knowledgeable representation, your personal information can be protected during your divorce. General information in your court documents may still be a part of the public record, however, keep in mind the options you have to protect your most valuable information.
When Might a Court Seal Divorce Records?
Judges will not seal divorce records because they contain information spouses may find embarrassing. The following might be reasons a judge would consider sealing divorce records:
- To protect the identity of a couple’s children
- To protect victims of any abuse
- To safeguard sensitive details like bank records and social security numbers
- To shield proprietary or other inside information about businesses
- To shield a spouse from false information that constitutes libel
The public’s right to know what happens in the courts must be outweighed by any damage that could occur by leaving the information available for widespread scrutiny.
How to Access Divorce Records in California
There are multiple ways to access California divorce records. These include:
- The California Department of Public Health
- The superior court
- The public libraries website
The more information one has, the easier it is to locate a divorce record. Helpful information includes the names of the parties and their dates of birth.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has copies of birth, death, and marriage records starting in 1905. The Judicial Council of California offers two types of divorce records. These are as follows:
- An authorized copy. This is a certified copy of the divorce record that may be used for official purposes. Only the registrant, their parent or legal guardian, child, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner can get an authorized copy. Law enforcement or a representative of a government agency conducting official business can also get one; and
- An information copy. This is not a certified copy, although it contains the same information. It may not be used for official purposes and is available to anyone.
The superior court where the couple filed for divorce has actual copies of the divorce record, and official copies are available upon advanced request. The public library’s website may also be a source for divorce records with at least one party’s name.
How to Request the Court Seal Your Divorce Documents
To have your divorce records sealed, either you or both you and your spouses must request to seal your divorce records and file the appropriate application with the county court. The judge in your case will review any evidence you submit on your behalf and rule on whether or not to seal your divorce records.
The judge will look more favorably upon your request if your divorce records include sensitive personal information such as details about your children and finances or any criminal information like domestic abuse. If your application is accepted, the court will relay a written order to the CDPH, and your records will be sealed.
The procedures for sealing public records vary from county to county. If you need more information, contact the superior court where you filed for divorce or contact an experienced family law attorney in the Los Angeles area.
How to Protect Your Privacy
Because divorce documents are public records and available for anyone who wants to access them, it is crucial to protect your personal information and your family’s privacy. The following are ways to help keep other people from digging into the details of your divorce:
- Stay out of the public eye
- Do not share details of your divorce on social media of any kind, even if you think your account is private
- Be aware that any posts, Tweets, or texts, can become part of the public record of your divorce case
- Use good judgment about anything you share with anyone on any platform while your divorce is pending
An Experienced California Family Law Attorney Can Help
If you were served with divorce papers or are in the midst of a divorce in Los Angeles County and want to learn more about your right to privacy or any other matter, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Fernandez & Karney. At Fernandez & Karney, we can answer your questions about the divorce process and the safety of your information.
Speak with an experienced family law attorney if you are concerned about your divorce documents being public record.