What is Your Privacy Worth? Lessons from Jon & Kate

Oct 7, 2009


 I generally try to avoid all things Jon and Kate.  But,  I do have a television in my house.  So, it’s hard to avoid seeing one of them airing dirty laundry on a daily basis.  Since we cannot stop the train wreck that has become their lives, maybe we can at least learn something from it and avoid a train wreck in our own lives.

Marriages end and people get divorced.  It is sad, but it is true.  Despite what John and Kate would have us think, there are actually ways to go through the divorce process without airing the most private and painful moments of your life.

Very few people that I see understand that filing a lawsuit creates a public record.  And, everything that is filed in that lawsuit is public information.  It literally sits in a file folder in the Clerk of Court’s office and can be viewed by anyone that wants to see it.  Did your spouse accuse you of having an affair in the Complaint?  If so, it is right there for everyone to see.  In some temporary hearings, the parties are allowed to submit affidavits (sworn statements) instead of actual testimony.  There are frequently affidavits from witnesses as well.  You should see what some of these affidavits say about the parties.  Attorneys are pretty good at finding witnesses that will make you sound like a horrible person in an affidavit.  At contested temporary custody hearings, each party typically submits affidavits that make them sound like the perfect parent and the other parent sound like they shouldn’t be left in a room alone with the child.  In alimony actions, the parties will typically make every allegation that they can think of to support a claim for financial support.  It is not uncommon for parties to recount 20 years’ worth of alleged mistreatment in a complaint, affidavit or other pleading.  Even if it is exaggerated or untrue, it is still on paper in a file that anyone can read.

Further, once you are actually in court for a hearing, there are little or no restrictions as to who sits in the courtroom during your case.  Do you want to talk the about the intimate details of your sex life in front of attorneys, a judge, a clerk, a Sheriff’s deputy and whatever random strangers are in the peanut gallery?  I can tell you from experience that it is uncomfortable to ask someone about the intimate details of their sex life in court.  Imagine how uncomfortable it would be to answer the questions!  Think about all of the intimate moments that you allowed yourself to be vulnerable during the marriage.  Now imagine having to explain or discuss those moments under oath on the witness stand in front of a room full of people that you don’t know.  You better hope that no co-workers, friends, church members, or other people that you have to see again happen to be in the courtroom.   

Even mundane matters can be uncomfortable.  Were you the authoritarian or disciplinarian for the kids during the marriage?  Well, in court you may well be termed “abusive”, “harsh” or “insensitive”.  Were you the softy with the kids?  You may be framed as “unable to set boundaries for the kids”, “afraid to discipline” or “unable to control the kids.”  Even if none of that is true, do you want to defend against those allegations in front of total strangers? 

Finally, if you allow a judge to make decisions in your case, that order will be public record.  Everybody and anybody will be able to see who got what, where the kids are and when, how much money one of you is paying to the other, etc…Do you really want the details of your family life on the public record?

If privacy is a concern to you, then resolving family law issues outside of court is your best option.  In both mediation and Collaborative Law, resolutions remain confidential.  Separation Agreements, Co-parenting Agreements and other negotiated agreements remain private.  They are not filed with a court or made a part of the public record unless the parties agree otherwise .  Your nosey friends, co-workers and neighbors do not have to know how you resolved your very personal legal issues.  

Resolving family law issues does not have to involve sacrificing your privacy.

Perhaps someone should tell Jon and Kate?

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