Through access to public records, we have transparency into what happens in public courts. This can help interested parties understand what information drove a court’s decision and help maintain integrity in matters of the public interest.
But in the situation of divorce – a process involving the courts, and therefore of public access – one might wonder what exactly about their divorce in detailed in public records, and how it could affect them.
A nasty divorce comes to light
Last week, Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, confirmed to the press that he is in a romantic relationship with Hallie Biden – the widow of his brother, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
Because of the announcement, details of the divorce between Hunter and his wife, Kathleen have surfaced.
According to court filings, Kathleen detailed a rocky relationship with Hunter; a lawyer, investment manager, and former lobbyist.
Citing “irreconcilable differences,” Kathleen claimed Hunter drained hundreds of thousands of dollars from their martial assets by “spending extravagantly on his own interests (including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs and gifts for women with whom he has sexual relations), while leaving the family with no funds to pay legitimate bills.”
Information like this is a matter of the court, and as we can see, reporters could easily obtain the nasty details of this divorce complaint.
Divorce is public (or sometimes, private)
In general, court proceedings are public matters. That includes divorce in most jurisdictions.
However, there are some exceptions to open court records. Divorce laws vary greatly from state to state, so the requirements may differ where you live.
To request privacy from public disclosure, a couple would have to request that the court seal divorce records. But the decision to seal these records is up to the judge.
Common reasons for requesting the sealing of divorce records include the need to protect children from identification or to protect victims of domestic abuse, the need to keep sensitive information like Social Security numbers of bank account numbers private, or the need to protect proprietary business information.
In some cases, in which a divorce record would expose false allegations that would damage one’s reputation, a judge may decide to seal the divorce record.
A couple may also consider a confidential settlement agreement. If you and your spouse want a private divorce, a confidentiality agreement may ensure that minimal documentation is filed with the court.
For example, most recently in the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt divorce saga, the couple signed agreements to keep all court documents confidential “to preserve the privacy rights of their children and family.”
So, are the details of your nasty divorce public? The answer is yes (if it was indeed nasty), however, as we noted, you might be able to change this. You just probably can’t change what happened that caused the divorce.