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Keeping Your Dirty Laundry Out of the Public Eye

Posted on in Divorce

divorce records IMAGEFew legal matters are more sensitive and personal than a divorce. The breakdown of a marriage and the decision to separate is often made after months or years of reflection and personal struggle. Yet, it is important to remember that divorce is a public act. Just as a marriage itself is a public affirmation of a relationship (with attended benefits and obligations under the law), the dissolution of that union requires going to court and having official action taken. As a result, most of the divorce details--at least all items filed with the court--will likely become public record.

 Court Records & Divorce

Divorce records are no different than criminal records, foreclosure proceedings, or any other matter involving the Illinois civil or criminal justice systems. In fact, an Illinois law titled the Marriage, Dissolution, and Invalidity Records Act specifically charges the Illinois Department of Public Health with “registering, indexing, and preserving records” of marriage and dissolution of marriage. The law further charges the department with crafting online and offline systems to manage these records and make it easy for anyone--from journalists to your neighbor--to view those records.

 Importantly, these records may include more than just bare facts about when a marriage was dissolved and who was involved. Instead, many different documents filed with the court can be accessed. For example, it is not uncommon for tawdry allegations and embarrassing claims to be made in heated court battles surrounding property dissolution, child support disagreements, and custody disputes. Illinois has a long history of divorce records being made public in high-profile cases. For example, during now-President Obama’s run for U.S. Senate in Illinois in 2004, his main primary opponent was a wealthy businessman named Blair Hull.  Hull was actually leading in most polls up to the election before journalists began publishing information found in his divorce papers. In Hull’s case, the divorce papers were actually sealed, but the pressure of the campaign caused him to release the records. The allegations in the documents ultimately caused him to drop in the polls and lose the elections. In rare cases a judge can order divorce records sealed from the public. However, there must be a compelling reason for this request, and a simple preference to keep thing private is insufficient. In most cases, records are only sealed for the protection of children, when domestic abuse is involved, or similar cases where private damage concerns outweigh the public right to open records. Also, certain sensitive portions of a record may be sealed (like financial information) without the entire record being withheld from the public.  Get Help Understanding that divorce records may be made public, it is imperative to act prudently in keeping the separation civil. An experienced divorce lawyer can advise you on the best ways to both advance your particular interests while attempting to maximize privacy. For help with these matters in DuPage County and many nearby communities, please contact the Davi Law Group today.
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