Sealing Court Records in an Arizona Divorce
The Law on Sealing a Divorce Case in Arizona
A divorce, although very personal, involves a legal process to dissolve the marriage. Your assets and business holdings are also included because the court must determine how to divide community assets between the two spouses. You have to deal with dividing community assets and debts, the potential payment of alimony (spousal support) and establishing child visitation schedules.
Divorce proceedings are very personal to you and your family. In most states, including Arizona, divorce records and proceedings are accessible to the public. To ensure transparency of the court system, it is necessary to allow the public to have access to court records.
Thankfully, certain family law documents may be sealed; thereby preventing the public from gaining access to either certain documents or the entire divorce file.
Documents that may be sealed include healthcare records, most if not all, financial documents, or any information identifying children or a victim of domestic or sexual abuse or violence. You must seek the approval of the courts to seal any records in your case. A motion or application to seal records must be requested if you feel you need documents or information to be sealed. An experienced family law attorney can help you understand the process of sealing divorce records to protect your privacy.
There is a process called “redaction”, which will prevent any identifying information, such as your social security number or bank account numbers, from being revealed to the public. Such information can be blacked out on the actual document to prevent disclosure. Identity theft is so prevalent today that this may be the best option to choose. With the help of your Arizona family law attorney, your identity can be protected even if most of the divorce records are left unsealed and available to the public.
Court of Appeals Ruling on Whether You Can Talk About a Divorce That is Sealed
In the case of Nash vs. Nash, Mother challenged a court order that “[d]ocuments, records, and transcripts sealed by the Court, and information contained in the sealed material, may not be disseminated to any third party without an Order of the Court.”
Not only does the order bar either party from disclosing copies of any court filing, but it also prevents them from discussing the outcome of the proceeding or disclosing any information contained in documents, records or transcripts without prior court approval.
It broadly applied to all such information, without regard to its source and without identifying any significant interest sought to be protected. Because the order preemptively forbade speech concerning a public proceeding, this was a classic prior restraint on speech. Father did not argue the order was required to protect his interest in a fair trial. Instead, Father argued the order was a “logical extension” of stipulations the parties entered prior to Trial asking the superior court to seal particular filings.
But the order at issue bared disclosure of any matter in the court’s record, not just documents the parties agreed would be sealed or kept confidential.
Moreover, Father did not point to any stipulation by which the parties agreed not to disclose the outcome of the dissolution proceeding or, more broadly, any information contained in any filing they made in the proceeding.
Nor did Father identify any specific information contained in the court’s file whose disclosure would threaten the best interests of the children or any factual finding by the court that would justify the order.
Pursuant to Arizona Rule of Family Law Procedure 13(D), the records relating to a dissolution proceeding “shall be maintained and disclosed in accordance” with Rule 123(c)(1) of the Rules of the Arizona Supreme Court, which in turn provides that court records “are presumed to be open to any member of the public for inspection.”
While Arizona Rule of Family Law Procedure 13(D) allows the superior court to “make any record of a family court matter closed or confidential or otherwise limit access to such records,” the court may issue such an order only upon “a finding that the confidentiality or privacy interests of the parties [or] their minor children … outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
To the extent the order at issue barred the parties from disclosing the decree or any other filings made in the case, it failed because it is unsupported by the findings that Rule 13(D) or Rule 123(c)(1) of the Arizona Supreme Court require.
Moreover, to the extent the order bared the parties from disclosing any information contained in any court filing, it cannot withstand scrutiny under applicable First Amendment principles. Therefore, the Court of Appeals vacated the order. Now, the question remains, what were those juicy details? If you have any questions regarding child support in Arizona
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about sealing court records in a divorce in Arizona to ensure everyone has access to information about divorce laws in Arizona. Chris is a family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and actually caring about what his clients are going through.