Can I maintain my privacy through a divorce?

On Behalf of | Mar 23, 2021 | Property Division

Connecticut law requires litigants to exchange financial records in family court proceedings. In any dissolution of marriage, Automatic Orders are attached to the pleadings take effect upon the filing and service of the divorce papers. Under the Automatic Orders, the litigants must complete and exchange sworn financial statements with each other. Mandatory discovery rules also impose the duty upon the litigants to disclose assets to the opposing party, and to update any changes to assets and finances during the pendency of the dissolution. The exchange of documentation may involve some level of decreased control over information regarding assets during the family court process, especially when sensitive business interests are involved.

Strategy matters

Going through the court process may make it more likely that news of your divorce could become public knowledge. Many documents in the family court file may be accessible to adults who request information from the court record. The court files typically include such documents as complaints and cross complaints, pleadings, certain affidavits, memoranda of decisions, and judgments.

It is public policy in Connecticut to provide the public with access to court records. However, there are times when the court might be willing to seal part of the record to protect one or both parties for reasons, including the protection of proprietary business information. Note that affidavits regarding financial matters, including issues related to child support, alimony and property division, are automatically sealed from public view. The court may convene a hearing on these matters to remove the initial seal and make the records accessible to the public. Financial affidavits are not sealed after the court convenes a financial hearing or trial.

Despite the initial treatment of affidavits in family court, the courtroom remains open to the public in the absence of a court order to seal the courtroom. The court may seal the courtroom or limit disclosure of information in the court record if the court finds that protecting the information outweighs the public’s interest in having access to the information. See e.g. Wendt v. Wendt, Superior Court of Connecticut at Stamford, 45 Conn.Supp. 208 (1996).

In Wendt v. Wendt, the husband sought to seal court records and close the hearing from the public and the news media. The trial court heard argument and reviewed the facts presented on the motion to seal. The judge concluded that because the litigant was a high-level executive with a large corporation, sealing the records to protect potential insider information concerning a publicly traded stock outweighed the public interest in having access to the court file and hearings.

Do you need an NDA?

It takes both you and your soon to be ex-spouse to keep your divorce (and the subsequent settlement or judgment) out of the public eye. You may need to consider a nondisclosure agreement. Similar to a nondisclosure agreement in an employment situation, both parties to a divorce agree not to disclose specific facts and documents from the divorce proceedings. The agreement should also discuss the treatment of certain documents, including:

  • Who has access
  • What happens to copies after the divorce is final
  • Who is excluded from having access
  • How to identify specific documents

In Perricone v. Perricone, the former husband brought a post-divorce motion for a protection order to enforce a confidentiality agreement entered into the litigants regarding nondisclosure of information related to their divorce. 292 Conn. 187 (2009). The confidentiality agreement of the parties had been incorporated into a court order, embodying the agreement, according to court records.

The plaintiff in the protection order litigation learned that his ex-spouse may have agreed to appear on a national television program to discuss the plaintiff, issues related to the divorce, as well as information related to a pending custody dispute between the litigants. While the defendant argued that the agreement violated First Amendment principles, the trial court rejected the argument. The court restrained the defendant from appearing on television, the radio or otherwise publicly discussing information related to the family court proceedings.

Typically, the attorneys involved will retain copies of all relevant documents as part of your file, but you and your spouse will not be able to keep copies of each other’s records. Your agreement may also include instructions for what you should do with confidential documents and how to dispose of them. Note that an agreement between the litigants alone is insufficient for the court to order the sealing of court records. Having the court seal court documents, as described above, requires additional findings of the court– beyond any agreement of the litigants.

It takes two

Keeping information about a divorce can be more challenging for some than others, especially in the age of social media. While the opposing litigant may not have bad intentions with sharing information, it is easy for confidential information to gain public disclosure. You and your soon to be ex-spouse may agree that you both benefit from keeping information private. Working with a sophisticated matrimonial lawyer to strategically create a nondisclosure and privacy plan, including seeking a court order regarding the privacy information, may provide even greater protection.

Going through a divorce often means disclosing many private details that could become part of the public record. It is essential to consider multiple layers of protection as you go through your divorce to better protect your interests and privacy related to the court process.