In general, your divorce file in Washington State is a public record.
However, there are a number of exceptions. You will want to discuss with your Family Law lawyer specifically what parts of your divorce file will be open to view in the public record and what can be done to protect sensitive information.
First of all, there are certain types of information that are normally put into a sealed part of the file that the court can access but the public cannot.
There is a document called the Confidential Information Form (CIF) that contains basic personal information on the parties such as social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, and employers.
It used to be that this kind of information would be placed directly in some other documents, such as child support orders. However, some years ago it was realized that this created privacy issues, and the CIF was developed to hold those bits of information instead.
Some other records can also be filed in the sealed section of the file by attaching them to a sealed documents cover sheet. This includes many primary financial source documents, health care records, and some detailed records gathered as part of a parenting evaluation.
What does appear in the public record about my divorce?
On the other hand, the motions and declarations that are filed in your case are generally open to public view. So your statements about your spouse, your spouse’s statements about you, statements about your children, statements about your finances, statements about domestic violence, etc. will all be there for anyone to read. The court orders about those matters will also be in public view.
The court has very little ability to order those kinds of documents to be sealed. It used to be that the court had a good bit more discretion about sealing sensitive documents, but a court case a few years ago severely limited that power.
How can I limit public information about my divorce?
One way to limit the exposure of that kind of information is to engage in an out-of-court dispute resolution process. Whether that is arbitration (hiring a private judge), mediation (a third party mediator helps the two of you work towards agreement), or collaboration (a professional team helps the two of you work towards the best agreement you can come up with), by avoiding court hearings you avoid filing papers for those hearings that will end up in the public record.
The final settlement agreement can also contain a good deal of sensitive information about you, as among other things it details the division of property and debts between the two of you. Fortunately, those details do not need to be put into the final Decree of Dissolution itself. They can be placed into a separation contract which is not filed with the court, and only generally referenced in the Decree.
If you need help with your divorce, give us a call at 206-784-3049, or use the form on our website, to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys. We only charge a minimal fee for the initial consultation and you can get a number of your questions answered at that time to help you decide how best to move ahead.