Divorce and other proceedings involving spouses or parents usually require a court’s consideration of sensitive information. To enable a fair division of marital assets and determinations on alimony, child support, and child custody, the parties typically must submit their financial records, medical records, and (at times) mental health records. Medical and/or mental health records for their children, and school records, often must be submitted too. Naturally, many litigants would prefer that data to remain confidential. Yet the general public ordinarily has access to court filings.(1) This article explores the means and standards for withholding sensitive information from public view in domestic litigation.
In domestic cases, as in most other types of civil litigation, Georgia law limits the identifying information included in court filings. With few exceptions, filings that contain a social security number, taxpayer identification number, financial account number, or birth date can list only the year of birth and the last four digits of the other identifiers.(2)
In any action for temporary or permanent child support, alimony, equitable division of property, modification of child support or alimony or attorney’s fees, the parties must submit affidavits specifying their financial circumstances.(3) The parties also must submit child support worksheets and schedules reciting financial information in cases involving child support.(4) On the request of either party, however, the trial court can order the affidavits, worksheets, schedules, and any other financial information sealed, “upon good cause shown to the Court.”(5) The judge must conduct a hearing and find that the harm resulting to the privacy of a person in interest clearly outweighs the public interest, in order to limit the public’s access to those or any other court filings.(6)
What constitutes sufficient cause to justify the sealing of court filings, or of the entire case record, will depend on the specific facts of the case and on the particular sensibilities of the trial judge. Unfortunately, published decisions of Georgia’s appellate courts have yet to provide explicit guidance on the issue.
If moving to seal specific filings, rather than the entire case record, a movant must first file a redacted version of the subject document(s), and then submit a request for filing under seal directly to the judge, along with a copy of the filing without redaction and a proposed order to file under seal.(7)
(1) Uniform Superior Court Rule (U.S.C.R.) 21.
(2) O.C.G.A. § 9-11-7.1(a); and U.S.C.R. 24.2.
(3) U.S.C.R. 24.2.
(6) U.S.C.R. 21.1 and 21.2. See also Wall v. Thurman, 283 Ga. 533, 661 S.E.2d 549 (2008).
(7) U.S.C.R. 21.6(C) and (D).