Thinking about “the public record” when you’re in the middle of a divorce isn’t easy. Your head is already spinning, your heart is shredded, and your entire world is falling apart. Keeping your private life out of public divorce records is just not your #1 priority at that point.
Yet, it matters – and not just if you ever plan on running for public office.
Employers today routinely run background checks on job applicants. While you may think that a potential employer clearly won’t care about your past marital history, if that history includes allegations of domestic abuse, adultery, alcoholism, or addiction, you better think again.
Even if you are a model citizen, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about anything in your divorce. Contested divorces can get ugly very fast. People (especially spouses embroiled in a divorce war) often say things in court documents that are less than 100% true. Lawyers are paid to spin facts into arguments that support their case. They can take true facts and weave them into a presentation that paints a very different picture of reality than the one you remember.
The problem is that once something is in writing in a court record, it usually stays there forever. Courts in the United States are open to the public. Divorce records are public information. Anyone can look at any court file they want, usually whenever they want to look at it.
If you settle your divorce issues with your spouse through mediation outside of court, then the documents you file in court can be fairly “vanilla.” They will contain the information that they absolutely need to contain for legal purposes, and nothing more. Further, if you and your spouse agree, you can also ask a judge to remove truly sensitive and personal information (especially financial account information, or information that could negatively affect your children) from the court file. A judge is usually willing to grant this kind of limited request to keep certain information private.