Like other court proceedings, divorce is, by default, a public matter. Most courts prioritize the public’s right to access this information over personal preferences. Courts can seal records in select situations, but there’s no guarantee they’ll remain sealed. So what could happen if your divorce goes public? Here are five frustrating possibilities:
- Revelations of addiction or mental illness cause embarrassment.
For instance, let’s say you separate from your husband because he racked up a serious gambling debt online. Without your knowledge, he sold several pieces of sentimental jewelry to finance this habit; and he later tried to sell off business assets to make good on a poker debt. If these details become public knowledge, your ex-husband will likely feel humiliated, and the revelations could also create problems for him the next time he seeks credit.
- A victim feels unsafe.
Maybe your ex abused you or your children. Sealed divorce records can help keep such sensitive information private. (Children are, by default, identified by initials only in divorce documents, for instance.) However, depending on the situation, details about the abuse/neglect could emerge. The last thing an abused person wants is to be the target of endless speculation and gossip.
- A local leader loses the trust of the community.
Perhaps you’re a prominent figure in your town, and you’re considering running for political office in the near future. If word gets out about the nasty battle you and your ex had over child visitation, your political opponents could make hay.
- Future romantic partners can look up damaging, intimate details about your separation.
At some point in the future, you’ll presumably want to date again. But what if all your prospective boyfriends are able to read about the sordid details of your first marriage on Google? It wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but you ideally would like to go into new relationships with a clean slate—to be able to control when and how to dispense details about your past.
- Business secrets can be revealed.
Occasionally, courts will seal divorce records to protect the interests of a company co-owned by spouses. For instance, you probably don’t want secret arguments over whether to fire your Chief Marketing Officer or whether to acquire a competitor to go public.