Going through a divorce is tough and can get ugly. There are usually tons of documents filed, especially if alimony and child support are involved. Having sensitive documents in the clerk of courts office raises an issue, are divorce records public in Louisiana?
Yes, most of the documents are part of the public record unless there is a specific reason they should be sealed.
Although most documents are public, there are some steps you can take to limit access to your divorce documents by the public.
What records are public?
There is no federal constitutional provision that gives the public the right to access judicial records and proceedings. However, the United States Supreme Court established that a trial is a public event, and all information is public property. (Check out the case of Craig v. Harney, 67 S.Ct. 1249, (1947) to learn more about open access to records.)
Divorce documents filed with the clerk of court are considered public records. These documents must be kept by the court and are available to the public, meaning any person can inspect, examine, and copy the filings regardless of the purpose.
The reason people don’t regularly access these records is they’re unaware of the process required to retrieve the documents, or they are don’t know the materials are publicly available. And of course, there is the expense; governments do not provide copies for free.
However, governments have made it easier and cheaper than ever to obtain public records. Most documents can be assessed through the clerk of court’s website for a minimal fee. So, for a small fee and a little knowledge, anyone can obtain a copy of your “confidential” divorce documents.
When a court deems records are sensitive and should not be public, they can enter an order to have the records sealed. Individual documents could be sealed or the entire divorce proceedings.
When a record has been sealed, a person must obtain a court order to view the documents. For example, a court may seal divorces that deal with children, domestic violence, or sensitive business information. They might also seal documents that contain false accusations that would be harmful and create undue harm.
Sealing your records
To have your documents sealed, you need to file a motion with the court requesting the records be sealed. In the action, you will need to convey the reasons you believe sealing the documents is necessary.
Just because you file a request, it is not automatic that the court will grant your motion. You need to provide proper reasons before the judge agrees to seal your case. You can’t just claim it will be uncomfortable for you if the record isn’t sealed.
The Louisiana Supreme court took up this issue in the Copelands divorce case. Al Copeland, the founder of Popeyes Fried Chicken, requested his divorce records be sealed from the public. The New Orleans Times-Picayune wanted to see the documents and filed a suit to obtain access.
The district court and court of appeals agreed with the Copelands that the documents should be sealed, but the Supreme Court disagreed. They found that there may be some justification for sealing portions of the proceeding, but a blanket order sealing the entire record was not warranted.
If you file a motion to seal your divorce proceedings, it would be advisable to request specific pages or parts of documents to be redacted and not file a motion to have the entire record sealed.
If you need help with your divorce, contact our office to get an experienced family law attorney. We have offices in Hammond and Livingston, Louisiana.