Most people do not want their private issues to be a matter of public record. However, many legal matters are public record, meaning anyone can view the documents filed with the court. Many divorce records in California are included in the public records.

What Are Public Records?

The public record contains documents, files, information, and other records that a government entity must maintain and make available for public viewing. If you know where to look and how to access public records, you can look at any divorce case filed in California, with very few exceptions. 

The California Department of Public Health maintains records of divorce certificates. Individual family courts maintain the divorce records for cases heard in their jurisdiction. Some courts maintain online public records, or you may request copies of public records from the court. 

Why Would Someone Want to Look at My Divorce Case?

Individuals who know you or your spouse may want to know if your divorce files contain specific information about why your marriage ended. Family, friends, and co-workers may just be nosy and want to gossip. However, the general public has little interest in your divorce unless you are famous. 

Alternatively, a party may have a legitimate reason to look at your divorce case. For example, someone searching real estate records may need to look at a property settlement agreement if there is a question about the real estate’s chain of title. In addition, government entities access divorce records for statistical data. 

Will the Court Seal My Divorce Case to Keep it From Becoming Public Record?

Being embarrassed or merely wanting to maintain privacy is not a sufficient reason for a judge to seal a divorce case. However, there are situations where the judge seals the entire divorce case or portions of the divorce case. For example, sensitive personal information may be redacted from documents made available as part of the public record. 

Examples of documents that might not appear in the public record or might have portions of the information redacted include, but are not limited to:

  • Financial documents, such as bank account records, retirement accounts, etc.
  • Medical records and other documents that contain health information 
  • Records relating to a paternity case
  • Adoption cases
  • The identity of minor children and victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence

Parties to a divorce action may petition the court to seal the record. There must be some compelling reason to override the public interest in keeping divorce cases a matter of public record for the judge to seal a case. 

The court automatically seals cases that involve paternity and adoption. Parties do not need to file a motion to ask the court to remove these cases from the public record. After sealing a case, a judge must sign an order allowing the case to be viewed by someone outside of specific court personnel. 

Redacting Sensitive Information from the Public Record

Your San Diego divorce lawyer may request the court to redact specific information from the case if the judge does not seal the case. For example, information not relevant to the divorce action might be redacted. Being redacted means the information is censored on the document available for the public to view.

High-profile individuals, such as celebrities and wealthy individuals, often request the court to redact financial information. Media outlets and individuals might obtain and publish the information for entertainment, even though it is not a matter of public concern.

Is There a Way to Keep a Divorce Private in California, so it Does Not Appear in Public Records?

Other than obtaining an order sealing your divorce case, your divorce is a matter of public record. However, you can take steps to limit the information that appears in your public divorce file. 

For example, if you and your spouse agree to an uncontested divorce, there is no reason to file pleadings explaining all the divorce details. Likewise, if you have a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement, the divorce terms do not need to be litigated. That means the amount of information in the public file is less than if you and your spouse fought about property division, child custody, and spousal support.

Mediation is another way to limit the information in the public record. The mediation is private. Your discussions during mediation should not appear in the public record. The final agreement should be the only document entered into the public record from the mediation. Arguing matters in open court expands what appears in the public record.

You can limit public records by choosing mediation and uncontested divorces. Your San Diego family law attorney can discuss other ways to limit the information available to the public in your divorce case.