This Week’s Blog by Lauren M. Healy
- Except in very limited circumstances, Connecticut divorce cases are public.
- The pleadings and documents filed with the Court during your divorce will almost always remain in a file which can be reviewed by the public.
- Hearings and Trials are open to the public.
- It is possible to request that certain documents be sealed in your Court file and that the Courtroom be closed during a Hearing, however these requests are not frequently granted by the Court.
Why Are Divorces Public in Connecticut?
In Connecticut, there is an automatic presumption that the public and the press will have access to your divorce documents and Court Hearings. Many litigants are understandably confused by this. Why should a sensitive family matter such as a divorce be subject to public scrutiny? The short answer is, the State of Connecticut has long recognized that there is a public interest in trials and information related to civil and criminal trials. This recognition of public interest relates to the First and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Connecticut Courts and legislature have recognized that public access to Court matters enhances the quality of the judicial system and safeguards the judicial process. Public participation in such matters generally helps to keep the judicial system in check.
What if I Believe My Case Requires Privacy?
There are exceptions to rule that Court files and trials are public. You might be surprised to find that these same rules and exceptions apply to all litigants in Connecticut—there are no special circumstances for celebrity or wealth. In order to succeed in sealing your Court file or closing the Courtroom, you must have a compelling reason, well beyond just embarrassment or financial disclosure. These types of circumstances usually involve the privacy rights of children and/or issues of abuse.
Connecticut Practice Book § 11-20 permits the filing of a Motion to Close Courtroom in civil cases. In order for the Motion to be granted, the Court must make a finding that closing the Courtroom will protect an interest that overrides the public interest of attending the proceeding. The Court’s order is required to be as narrow as possible. This might mean that only limited portions of the Courtroom proceeding are closed to the public, and the remaining time is open. There is also a very specific time frame and procedure that must be followed when filing a Motion to Close the Courtroom, so there is appropriate notice to the public that there will even be a Hearing on the issue.
Connecticut Practice Book § 11-20A permits the filing of a Motion to Seal a File or Limit Disclosure of Documents in civil cases. Since there is a presumption that all pleadings and documents filed with the Court will be public, for a Motion to Seal or Limit Documents to be granted, there must be a finding by the Court that some private interest overrides public interest. There are also specific time frames and procedure related to this Practice Book Section, which must be carefully adhered to. The Practice Book also addresses how to request to file individual documents under seal (P.B. §§ 7-4B, 7-4B).
Are My Records Still Public if My Spouse and I Settle or Withdraw our Divorce Case?
Once a document or pleading is filed with the Court, it will become a public record unless the Court grants a Motion to Seal. This also applies to written settlements. Even if you and your spouse have an Agreement, it will still be accessible to the public. If you decide to withdraw your divorce action, your case file will remain accessible to the public, although eventually (usually within twelve months of the withdrawal) the case will not be included and searchable through the Connecticut Judicial Branch Website.
At Broder & Orland LLC we have experience with matters requiring sealed records and closed Courtrooms. We are adept at advising our clients on how to conduct his or her divorce as privately as possible under the circumstances of the case.