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Privacy Concerns in Family Law Cases

Wooden blocks spell out "privacy"

A significant concern for many families going through a divorce or custody litigation involves the public’s accessibility to the details of their private lives. When a case is fully litigated in court some Court records as well as Court transcripts can be accessible to the general public.

As a powerful arm of the government, the judiciary’s conduct and dealings are a matter of great public interest. For the purpose of transparency and openness, nearly all legal proceedings are a matter of public record. Further, it can make a party uneasy that anyone can come sit in on a public hearing. However, the public’s interest in governmental transparency can conflict with its interest in protecting the privacy of individuals and their families. This is especially true regarding information that could be embarrassing or even harmful if it fell in the wrong hands. For example, a party may not want their employer knowing details of their custody litigation or their pending divorce. This is one example among many on why people want their Court records private.

This article examines the privacy issues concerning family law cases, information that must be included in your family law case, and some legal solutions that can be utilized to protect your sensitive information.

Personal-Identifying Information

A final Order for a Divorce and a Suit Affecting a Parent-Child Relationship must specify the minor child by their full name, age, sex, social and driver’s license (as applicable) In addition, both parents must include their personal information which includes: current address, phone number, work address, work phone number social security number, and driver’s license number. It is important to discuss what needs to be disclosed with an experienced attorney as some of this information can be redacted to protect possible identity theft.

Most Orders require the parties to fulfill certain notice requirements. For example, in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, the Order requires the parties to inform each other, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Court if they move or change jobs. If a party does not provide the Court as well as the other party with notice, they have violated a Court Order and could be subject to contempt or attorney fees.

Under Texas Family Code § 105.006(b), notice must be given by the earlier date of the following:

  • “(1) the 60th day before the date the party intends to make the change; or
  • (2) the fifth day after the date that the party knew of the change, if the party did not know or could not have known of the change in sufficient time to comply with Subdivision (1).”

Under Federal Law, Texas state case registry must include the following information for child support:

  • Name
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • Case number
  • Any information relevant to adding or removing a family violence indicator

In cases assigned with a family violence indicator, the court has the discretion to determine whether to disclose personally identifiable information. Texas is a participating member of the Federal Child Support Enforcement Program. Texas has delegated the authority to assign a case with a family violence indicator with the Office of the Attorney General. Receiving benefits under the federal child support enforcement program requires participating states to include a family violence indicator in their pleadings.

Legal Solutions for Preventing Privacy Violations

The need for transparency and openness for court proceedings may be subordinate to the need to prevent the harms that stem from giving the public access to what would otherwise be private information in certain cases.

The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure provide that certain court records may be sealed from the public. Rule 76a provides that “Court records may not be removed from court files except as permitted by statute or rule. No court order or opinion issued in the adjudication of a case may be sealed.”

The term Court records as used in Rule 76a includes “…documents filed in an action arising under the Family Code.”

Therefore, in certain instances, you Court records can be sealed. The court has discretion as to whether to seal files in cases involving divorce, child custody, and child support.

Although family law records may be sealed from the general public, it may be necessary to suppress the disclosure of personally identifiable information between the parties. Although certain divorce Orders may require a party to provide the other party with notice if they intend to change their contact information, an exception to this requirement may be appropriate for cases involving potential harassment, abuse and harm.

Under Texas Family Code § 105.006(c), if a court finds after notice and hearing that requiring a party to provide the information required by this section to another party is likely to cause the child or a conservator harassment, abuse, serious harm, or injury, or to subject the child or a conservator to family violence, as defined by Section 71.004, the court may:

(1) order the information not to be disclosed to another party; or

(2) render any other order the court considers necessary.

Contact Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers for Advice

Divorce can be an emotional experience, especially when minor children and issues of family violence are concerned. If you need an attorney to represent you and the interests of your family, please reach out to Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers. Our legal team is dedicated to advocating for your privacy interests in matters concerning Texas family law.

To consult a member of our experienced legal team, please call Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers at (940) 293-2313 or contact our office online today.