Sealing of Court Documents in Family Law

Often in Family Law cases there is sensitive information that needs to be sealed in Court so that the Public and or other parties to the case to have access to the sensitive records.  Recently the Judge in the Prince case in Minnesota unsealed records it did not find to fit the legal analysis for keeping records sealed in Court. Prince apparently had records from a prior divorce sealed.  The terms of the settlement were kept confidential until recently when the public outcry for the information came before the court again.  Now that Prince is deceased the Court has now revisited these issues and determined that the records would be unsealed.

The Court when determining is a record needs to be sealed must determine if there is an overriding interest to the parties that the record cannot be made public. Often trade secrets of a company or some type of business issue that must be protected. Next the Court must consider that there is a substantial probability that if the document or issue is not sealed then the party to whom the record is maintained by will be prejudiced.   These type of prejudices would be if someone uses the document or record to their advantage in a new proceeding or future proceeding once knowing what the document or information is. In addition, the court once they determine to seal the document must seal the records specifically to what needs to be protected.  If there are a lot of trade secrets that are available but only one is secretive then the Court will Seal only the one that is pertinent.  Finally the Court will only Seal records where there no other way to maintain the privacy of the records.

In the case of Prince most of his divorce settlement was sealed.  Since his death much of his estate is unknown and the divorce he underwent divided millions of dollars and the Estate of Prince now needs to know where some of his money went during the divorce settlement.  Therefore the Courts must now unseal records and review the stringent legal analysis it underwent during his divorce from Testolini.

You might think that sealing Court records would never apply to a person who has limited assets and a simple divorce, however, sealing can apply to all sorts of events during a divorce.  Maybe people own a small business with proprietary information that cannot be leaked to anyone.  As part of the settlement the parties agree to seal records as part of the final divorce decree.  Or sometimes a party wants something sealed and must make a motion to the court to do so.

Moreover, people often want to settle divorce cases and decide that one party wants to seal a personal record and to settle the Court will seal that information.  So in the end Sealing Court records is a tool used by parties to settle divorce disputes and often eradicate unnecessary information leaking to the public as in Prince’s case.