In our last post, we began discussing the usual public nature of divorce and the possibility of keeping some divorce matters private. As we noted, divorce proceedings in California are presumed to be open to the public unless confidentiality is required by law or a motion is made to seal them.
A motion to file divorce records may only be sealed in certain situations. There must be an “overriding interest” that overcomes the public’s right to access the divorce record. The overriding interest must support sealing the record and there must be a substantial probability that the overriding interest will be disadvantaged if the record is not sealed.
In addition to these conditions, the proposed sealing itself must also be of a certain character. Specifically, state law requires a proposed sealing to be narrowly tailed, meaning that it must involve only the sealing of records or portions of records which involve the overriding interest the party is seeking to protect. Finally, there must not be any less restrictive means of protecting the overriding interest. Sealing the record must be really the best way to protect the interest.
If each of these conditions is met and the court decides to grant a motion to seal divorce records, there are certain rules that must be met under state law. An order sealing divorce records must, first of all, state the specific facts that support the findings. Second of all, it must seal only documents and pages, or portions of documents and pages where possible, containing the information that is to be sealed. The rest of the information must be available in public records.
What types of interest may qualify as “overriding”? We’ll look at this issue in our next post.