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Privacy and Divorce/Custody: Sealing a Family Law File

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I’m Divorced, Now Can I Seal the File from Public View?

Privacy and Divorce/Custody: Sealing a Family Law File

Going through a contentious divorce can be an excruciatingly public affair. All of your “dirty laundry” is aired out in public, at hearings or through court filings. Even after you finally get divorced, the information contained in the entire divorce file remains available, permanently, for the public to see and view and, there are likewise practical reasons to avoid public scrutiny of your divorce file.

You don’t have to be a celebrity for people to be interested in your private life. What can a person do?

The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure sets out a very specific remedy for this, known as “sealing”. The effect of sealing a file means that the file is not available to the public unless a proper motion is filed, a hearing is heard by the Court, and the Court Orders the filed to be unsealed and made available to the public.

The Rule, located at Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 76a, sets out a sometimes onerous method for getting a court files “sealed,” meaning shielding them from public consumption. These rules apply to civil cases and sets out the elements that must be met to seal a court record. There is a burden put on the person attempting to seal the record to prove why it should be sealed because there is a presumption that that court records should be open to the public.

Standard for Sealing Court Files

A person attempting to seal a court record must show a specific, serious, and substantial interest that clearly outweighs the presumption of openness and outweighs any adverse effect on the general public regarding sealing such court record. A person wishing to seal a court record must notify the public of the intent to ask the Court to seal court records with a public notice. The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure do not allow a Court to just “seal the whole court file,” a person wishing to seal court records must meet their burden as to each record, and each portion of each record. This can be a very complicated and time consuming process.

Exception for Family Law Cases

However, Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 76a specifically states that court records filed under the Family Code are not “court records” for the purposes of the rule. ITRCP 76a(2)(a)(3). In other words, family law cases, such as divorces, do not need to meet the same standard for civil cases set forth in Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 76a in order to seal court records. In re Bain, 144 S.W.3d 236, 241 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2004, no pet.)

In other words, for sealing a family law matter, the Court has near complete discretion to seal a file that is a family law matter, such as divorce, custody, child support or other family law matter. There is one exception even to this rule, however, that any Order or Opinion that was rendered by the Court may not be sealed.

In my experience, because of the privacy implications, family law records are generally sealed upon a request by the Court.

If you believe that the records related to your divorce need to be sealed or that you are already divorced and want to go back and request the court to seal your records, can be sealed with a proper motion and order. There is something to be said for being able to truly “move on” after your divorce.

Contact Us Today For Professional Advice on Sealing a Family Law File

Our Divorce Attorneys serve clients in Williamson County, Travis County, Bastrop and Hays Counties as well. Our Austin Divorce Attorneys offer a free consultation and oftentimes can make arrangements to work through phone conference or Zoon, if necessary. Put the extensive experience of Austin, Texas divorce attorney James W. Evans to work for you. Call us today at (512) 628-2550 to discuss your case.