Can I Get My Divorce Filing Sealed?
Legal filings, lawsuits, and official documents filed with the Clerk of Court in Mecklenburg County (and throughout North Carolina) are ordinarily deemed a “matter of public record.”
That means for lawsuits filed in Mecklenburg County, any member of the public can go to the Clerk of Courts office in Charlotte and take a look at the official court file.
Friends, neighbors, and even news media also have the right to access public records information.
Actions in divorce and other “civil filings,” which may necessarily include legal issues involving equitable distribution, support, alimony, and even criminal conversation / alienation of affection allegations, are often deemed matters of public record.
There are limited circumstances when legal filings may be “sealed” or what lawyers in North Carolina may refer to filing something “under seal.”
Sealing a court record, the filing of a lawsuit, etc., often requires a formal filing of a Motion to Seal.
If granted, the Judge would issue a Court Order, directing the Clerk of Court to seal and not make public certain court records and file materials.
Requests to seal a file are rarely granted.
Indeed, there is a strong preference in our system of justice for transparency, openness, and the public’s right to access information.
That’s true even if the allegations within a lawsuit are embarrassing, relate to a public figure, or include details of your marriage that you may simply prefer to keep private.
Under the North Carolina divorce laws, it is challenging to keep legal documents confidential when they are filed with the court.
At the same time, the process of accessing court files can be somewhat challenging if not difficult.
"The database our court system presently uses to access court filing and lawsuit information would be most kindly described as ‘antiquated."
- Bill Powers, Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Lawyer
Legal filings using the current terminal access program are not scanned or viewable online via PDF or other common protocol.
That may change in the near future with an updated e-filing system in Mecklenburg County.
Presently, reviewing a complaint for divorce and the other materials filed with the clerk of court requires going to the courthouse, filling-out a request to review a file, and looking at the physical, official court file.Are There Options to Public Filing for Divorce?
In the event you would like to keep your private matters private, there may be legal options available including collaborative divorce.
There also can be the option of binding arbitration, which has potential of keeping confidential materials private.
The parties may agree to mediate a divorce prior to even filing.
"The divorce lawyers at our Charlotte law firm prefer creative solutions to legal issues. That may include non-binding mediation before filing, collaborative divorce, and even arbitration."
- Bill Powers, Family Law Attorney
The parties may agree to settle all legal and factual disputes privately, necessitating the filing of a very simple, non-descript “complaint for divorce.”
Obviously, how that may be accomplished depends largely on the unique circumstances of your individual case.
Legally, divorce lawyers often use something called a Separation Agreement to effectuate the goals of the parties/spouses.
Relative to divorce and other family law matters in North Carolina, a Separation Agreement or “SA” may be thought of as a type of settlement or contract between the parties.
Separation Agreements do not need to be filed with the Clerk of Court.
They may be referenced in later “pleadings,” keeping the terms private and otherwise secret.
Separation Agreements, like other forms of settlement agreements, may be legally binding.
Family law attorneys in Charlotte often encourage the use of a Separation Agreement to work through issues involving child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, post separation support or “PSS” and Equitable Distribution.
Separation Agreements may be temporary. They also may have long-lasting, if not permanent effect.
Collaborative Law Attorneys in Charlotte
"Before signing any legal document, including Separation Agreements, obtaining legal advice is a really good idea."
- Bill Powers, Charlotte Divorce Lawyer
We believe in the collaborative law approach.
While known as courtroom lawyers, when it comes to legal issues involving child custody, visitation, and support, experience shows the courtroom is no place for children.
As such, we are open to creative ways to approaching legal separation and divorce.
"Pre-filing mediation, Separation Agreements, and particularly Collaborative Divorce are things you may wish to consider."
- Bill Powers
If you have legal questions about what is best for you and your family, please call our office now to schedule a consultation.
Consultation charges DO APPLY at our law firm when the issues involve family law, divorce, separation, etc.
Our firm ordinarily requires payment of a True General Retainer that is earned immediately. We also charge hourly rates.
Call now: 704-342-4357
You may email Bill Powers at Bill@CarolinaAttorneys.com