California Divorce Documents

by : Donald P. Schweitzer

With all the celebrity divorces in the news lately and all the dirty details of their private lives being dragged out on their front lawns for everyone to see, it leaves one wondering, is anyone entitled to any privacy when it comes to a divorce? Many people come to our office knowing that their divorce will be less than amicable. They know their soon-to-be-ex will most likely be dishing out the dirt (whether true or not) of their relationship and they worry that private information will be made public through court documents. They want to know if ALL of the divorce documents will be made public, and if there is any way they can get divorce records sealed.

In California, all divorce and family law documents and proceedings are accessible to the public. However, there are a number of provisions within the California Family Code that authorize a court to close proceedings or seal certain documents. Below are a listing and summary of applicable sections.

• Section 1818 – Privacy of hearings; conferences; confidential nature of communications; closed files; inspection of papers: This section in general allows all hearings, conferences and court documents to be sealed and they may only opened to inspection by written authority from a family court judge.

• Section 2024.6 – Authorizing a trial court to seal pleadings that contain financial information: This section deals with sealing documents which contain information regarding the parties' assets and liabilities including the location and identifying information about the assets and liabilities.

• Section 3025.5- Psychological evaluations of children; confidentiality; exceptions: This section allows the court to seal documents relating to psychological evaluations of children, and recommendations regarding custody or visitation.

• Section 3041.5- Controlled substances or alcohol abuse testing of parent seeking custody or visitation; grounds for testing; confidentiality of results; penalties for unauthorized disclosure: This section provides for confidentiality of results of drug and/or alcohol testing of a parent seeking custody or visitation.

• Section 3177 – Confidentiality of proceedings: This section relates to confidentiality of mediation proceedings.

• Section 3552 – State and federal income tax returns; submission to court; examination and discovery: This section allows the court to seal tax returns if they are retained by the court due to their relevancy to the case.

• Section 7613- Natural father of child conceived by artificial insemination; conditions: This section allows the court to provide confidentiality to a man who donates his semen for use in artificial insemination of a woman who is not his wife.

• Sections 7643 - Hearing or trial in closed court; papers and records; inspection: This section allows the court to conduct a proceeding without the admittance of any person other than those necessary to the action or proceeding.

• Section 7884- Admission to proceedings: This section allows the court to deny the public access to a hearing in which termination of parental rights are being considered.

• Section 9200- Inspection of documents; authorization; fee; deletion of identification of birth parents; certificate of adoption: This section allows the court to provide confidentiality to the birth parents in the case of an adoption.

It is important to understand that having records sealed is not necessarily automatic, as there is a competing public right to have access to court records and proceedings. Nevertheless, it never hurts to ask!