Divorce can be difficult and, at times, messy. Some of the details of the divorce can be very personal, but important for the court to consider when hearing a case. There are times when confidentiality is needed to protect certain information, such as the details about adultery or abuse. Court hearings are public and the court cannot prohibit the public from attending proceedings, except confidential child safety cases and similar information. Here are some suggestions for how to keep your divorce private and confidential.
Why does confidentiality matter in divorce?
It is important to make sure the court gets only the information needed to protect your interests. That is why the Collaborative Divorce process is helpful because you do not have to go to court—a public forum open to anybody. You can control the information that is provided to the court more easily in the collaborative process. It is important to protect information about your children, their names, social activities and child support. It is also important to keep information about the property that is part of the divorce case private.
Is information in a public court process for a divorce available to anyone in Texas?
The answer is it depends on the county.
For example, in Fort Bend County, anyone at any time can go online to the District Clerk’s Office webpage and type in the name of a neighbor or colleague to see information about their case. The documents are available for anyone to see, if they know where to go.
In Harris County, you must create an account to see information in a divorce case, such as if a child support enforcement is pending against someone. While someone who is not a party to the case may not be able to see the actual documents, you can see enough, like a divorce petition or the names of parties. The court clerk does redact the address and names on the actual documents, but there are other ways to see some of that information.
How can my information remain private?
The best way to maintain confidentiality is to hire an attorney who has experience using the Collaborative Divorce process, which is geared toward protecting privacy because you sign an agreement to collaborate on reaching a final settlement. Unlike a traditional case where you only talk to your lawyer, the Collaborative Divorce process is intended to bring everybody together to work through the details and reach an agreement that works best for everyone. In this process, you agree that you will work together to reach an agreement outside of court. Everything that is discussed will remain confidential, just as it would in a Mediation.
You can also discuss ways with your attorney to reduce the amount of information that is available to the public about your case. In addition to the collaborative process, there can be an Agreement Incident to Divorce, where instead of putting private information in the actual Divorce Decree itself, you put it in a separate document. The Agreement Incident to Divorce is not filed with the court, but both parties have a copy.