The Legal Process for Sealing Family Court Records in California.

Understanding the Sealing of Family Court Records in California

The confidentiality of court records is a principle that balances public interest with individual privacy rights. In California, family court records are generally public, but there are circumstances under which these records can be sealed, thus restricting access to sensitive information. This article explores the legal process involved in sealing family court records in the state of California.

Legal Grounds for Sealing Records

Under California law, the court may order records to be sealed upon a finding of good cause. Good cause exists when the harm to privacy of a person or parties outweighs the public's interest in accessing the records. Common reasons for sealing records include protecting the identity of children and abuse victims, safeguarding sensitive financial information, or preserving the confidentiality of adoption details.

The Process for Sealing Records

To initiate the process of sealing family court records, a party must file a written request or motion with the court. The request should specifically identify the documents or portions thereof to be sealed and provide a detailed explanation as to why sealing is necessary.

The requesting party must notify all other parties involved in the case of their intent to seal records. The court then sets a date for a hearing to consider the request. During this hearing, the judge will weigh the need for confidentiality against the presumption of open judicial proceedings.

If the court finds that there is good cause to seal the records, it will issue an order specifying which documents are to be sealed and for how long they will remain so. It is important to note that sealing orders can be subject to later modification or reversal if circumstances change.

Historical References and Examples

The case of In re Marriage of Burkle, which involved a high-profile divorce between billionaire Ronald Burkle and his former spouse Janet Burkle, illustrates the complexity surrounding requests to seal family court records. The Burkles' initial agreement to seal their divorce records was challenged by media outlets, leading to legal battles over public access versus personal privacy. The California Supreme Court eventually ruled on this tension in 2006, emphasizing that such decisions must balance interests and that detailed findings must support sealing orders.

Conclusion

To successfully seal family court records in California requires a clear demonstration of good cause and adherence to legal procedure. Those seeking such relief should consult with an attorney experienced in family law to ensure that their request is properly presented and argued before the court. While privacy concerns are legitimate and sometimes warrant protection through sealing, this measure remains an exception rather than the norm in order to uphold the transparency of judicial proceedings.