By Donald Schumacher, Seiden Family Law
Being able to keep things private during the divorce process will depend on the route you and your spouse choose to proceed. If you are mediating privately, with or without attorneys, and your spouse and you agree to limit discovery because you are both fully and comfortably aware of the financial aspects of your marriage, then it may be possible to keep details private. If, however, your matter is litigated in the New Jersey Courts, your privacy rights will frequently be outweighed by the rights of your spouse for full disclosure regarding several aspects of the marriage.
Discovery is the process whereby litigants are provided documentation and information about certain aspects of the adverse party. In divorce actions, the rights to discovery are very broad. The objective is to permit both parties the opportunity to have full knowledge of the facts involved in the matter. If issues of support and division of assets and liabilities are in dispute, tax returns, bank and brokerage account statements, credit cards, etc., would be discoverable – meaning these documents would have to be provided, and likely for a number of years. If you and your spouse have children and custody and/or parenting time are at issue, then personal records may also be discoverable, including medical, psychological, and criminal records.
There are mechanisms to limit private information from becoming public during a litigation. The New Jersey Court Rules require social security numbers, dates of birth, and account numbers to be redacted from documents being filed with the Court. The Court Rules also permit a litigant to seek to quash a subpoena that may be served on a person or entity for documents that are not relevant or beyond the scope of the litigation. Whether such a motion to quash is granted is then left to the Court to decide. Protective Orders are frequently utilized when one litigant has an ownership interest in a private or public company and discovery is needed from or about that company. Protective Orders impose the obligation on the litigants and the professionals they may employ to keep records and information private.
Divorcing parties need to be educated on what can be expected during the discovery process and that there are options to limit the “invasion” into privacy at a public level. Depending upon the parties involved and on the length of the marriage, many litigants may not have concerns about what is ultimately discovered.