If you’re like most people, you’ve probably read stories about celebrity divorces, seen their dirty laundry aired in public and maybe even breathed a sigh of relief that you’re not in that boat. But even if you’re a relative nobody, your privacy can still be compromised during a divorce, causing you both emotional and financial harm.
That’s because a divorce is a legal proceeding, and in most states court documents are a matter of public record.
So how can you protect yourself? First, many states allow you to withhold certain highly confidential pieces of information from publicly searchable court documents. This includes Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, your mother’s maiden name and other types of information that can be used for identity theft and fraud purposes — or to gain access to other compromising information about you that you want to keep private. It’s a great idea to talk to a family law attorney where you live to see what kind of identifying information you can protect in court papers and how to do so.
Another way to avoid embarrassment is to think about whether you want to put ugly personal details about your spouse into court filings during a contentious divorce. While it’s understandable that you may want to get an advantage over your spouse and cast him or her in the harshest possible light, remember that he or she could then decide to do the same to you. Think hard about whether escalating things to this level, with the resulting emotional fallout for yourself and potentially your kids, is worth any benefit from making this kind of stuff available to the public.
A third way to keep private information private is to avoid court in the first place and opt for mediation or a collaborative divorce process instead. In that case all the paperwork is private and the only public product is the final divorce agreement. By that point, any ugly underlying details can be worked through and the agreement can be drafted to limit your public exposure. Talk to an attorney in your area about these options.