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Are Divorce Court Records Public?

Going through a divorce often involves a lot of personal issues between the spouses and their families. Each person may have their own private reasons for wanting to get a divorce or separate from their spouse. Unfortunately, court records, including divorce hearing records, are generally considered public information in the state of Missouri. 

The public generally has a right to access, view, and copy divorce court records in Missouri. If a couple has an amicable divorce and settles any disputes involving child custody, alimony, and property division, there may not be a lot of information in the family court records. However, when the parties are involved in a dispute over children, property, and how much money one spouse pays in support, a lot of private information can make it into the public record for anyone to see. 

If you are concerned about your privacy when going through a divorce, there are options for settling issues privately, sealing records, and limiting the amount of personal information that goes into the court records. Before filing or responding to divorce papers, talk to your Missouri divorce lawyer about your privacy rights and options. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm in Raymore. 

Keeping Your Divorce Issues Private

The simplest way to keep your divorce issues private is to settle them before going to court. During court hearings and depositions, a court reporter generally takes a transcript of everything said, including statements by the spouse, attorneys, and judges. This may become part of the court record, and therefore, open to the public. 

Any evidence submitted to the court also becomes part of the public record. Evidence submitted may include video or audio recordings; transcripts of phone calls, emails, or texts; or even love letters written by one spouse to someone who is not the other spouse. This information can be very embarrassing and revealing when it is open to the public. Information one or both spouses may want to keep out of the public eye include: 

  • Adultery or affairs, 
  • Drug or alcohol addiction, 
  • Gambling, or
  • Alleged physical or emotional abuse. 

Settling Divorce Disputes Privately

Many divorce disputes can be handled privately before they go to court. Even if the spouses cannot get along, their lawyers may be able to negotiate to come to an agreement that both parties can live with. Avoiding litigation will not only keep matters out of the public eye, but it can also reduce the time and costs associated with courtroom disputes. 

Collaborative divorce may also be an option, where a broad group of professionals -- attorneys, financial advisors, and mental health professionals -- work together to help you resolve unsettled matters, especially as it pertains to children.

Even if the couple cannot come to an agreement on all issues, it can help to limit the disputes to less personal issues.  

Mediation in a Divorce

In most child custody and visitation disputes, the court will require the parties to use mediation to resolve their issues. In child custody and visitation issues, the court may, at any time, order the parties to participate in mediation.

The parties may jointly and voluntarily select any mediator qualified to undertake mediation. The court can provide a list of qualified child custody and visitation mediators. If the parties cannot jointly and voluntarily select a mediator and voluntarily participate in mediation, the court shall select a mediator from the court mediator panel and order the parties to participate.

One of the benefits of mediation for divorcing parties is that the process is confidential. What happens in mediation generally does not become part of the public record, except for any agreements signed by the parties. The parties involved in mediation do not have to worry about their statements being used against them in court, even if mediation is not successful. 

Sealing Divorce Records

Certain court matters or parts of a divorce may be sealed by the court. A sealed court record or document is generally not available to the public. If anyone wants access to sealed court documents, they generally have to get a court order to view the records. 

There may be a number of reasons why the court wants to seal records related to a divorce. Many court records that deal with children or individuals under the age of 18 are sealed, to protect the interests of the child. A child in a divorce record may be referred to by initials or the court may seal certain records relating to a child. 

Cases involving domestic violence or stalking are often subject to sealed court restrictions. In a divorce, if a spouse alleges domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking by a spouse, the court may decide to seal those records. 

A court may seal records on their own accord, depending on the state laws and the determination of the judge. However, if one or more parties in a divorce want all or certain records sealed, they generally have to request the court to seal the records. 

Generally, in order to have the court seal court records, the parties have to articulate specific reasons for closure, given the presumption in favor of open records. The parties may have to “identify specific and tangible threats to important values,” that would be harmed if the records are not sealed. 

If you want divorce records sealed, talk to your Missouri family law attorney about your rights and options.  

Searching Divorce Records

Divorce and marriage records are public for a number of reasons. Whether a person is single or married may have implications on a number of legal matters, including tax filing, property ownership, parenting rights, and insurance coverage. It is also a crime to marry another person when the individual is already married. 

Individuals in Missouri can search for records of marriage or divorce through the Bureau of Vital Records in Jefferson City. The Certified Statement Relating to Marriage or the Certified Statement Relating to Divorce issued by the Department of Health and Senior Services will only include: 

  • Names of both spouses, 
  • Date of marriage/divorce, and 
  • County where the marriage/divorce was recorded.

Locally, marriage licenses can be obtained from the Recorder of Deeds Office in the county where the license was obtained. Divorce decrees can be obtained from the Circuit Clerk in the county where the divorce was granted. 

If someone wants to access public court records, they can access all public records held in local and state governments, including county courts. Under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.011, “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.”

Under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 610.023: “Each public governmental body shall make available for inspection and copying by the public of that body's public records.”

Talk to an Experienced Missouri Family Law Attorney

Divorce disputes may be handled privately or through mediation to keep them private. Alternatively, you may be able to seal divorce records to keep them away from the eyes of the public. Cass County family lawyers in Higher Level Legal have years of experience in divorce disputes, including successfully protecting the privacy of individuals and their children in a divorce. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today at (816) 331-9968 for a consultation.

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If you need assistance or have questions, please call us at (816) 331-9968 to schedule a consultation. We are here to help you through this process.