In the most vitriolic of divorce and custody cases, public court filings can sometimes read more like soap operas than legal records. For politicians, actors, athletes, or anyone in the public eye, these documents, often exposed by the media, can be career-damaging and humiliating.
Illinois is a “fact-pleading” state, meaning it’s necessary for the lawyer to include some facts about the case in the court document so he or she can get the relief sought for the client. If public image is a concern for you, your lawyer can make a point of ensuring that the facts pleaded are relatively straightforward. The opposing side, however, may file records that are over-the-top and harassing. What can you do?
When a litigant feels like he or she is being harassed by the other party in court filings, or confidential information is being exposed, they can attempt to seek a protective order and/or try place to the court filings under seal. Provided there is “good cause”, the court will grant a request to file the pleadings under seal (so they are not available to the public) or to grant a protective order. “Good cause” often includes when there is sensitive medical or financial information included in the records but will vary with each case. A protective order is a court order that is designed to prevent unreasonable embarrassment, harassment, or oppression.
The option available to all litigants to protect confidential information is to “incorporate” your financial settlement “by reference” into the final divorce decree. This means that the lawyers request that the settlement agreement, which usually includes some confidential financial information, is excluded from the public record. This request is usually always granted. If confidentiality is a particular concern for you, talk with your lawyer about what options there may be.