I believe that most people want their private lives to be private. That includes their divorces. I haven’t conducted any formal research on the subject, but I’ve represented many people going through divorce over the years and have found very few who wanted their divorce proceedings to be a public spectacle. Or even a public record. Even most public figures, such as celebrities and politicians, don’t want their private lives on display for public consumption. Public figures don’t have as much choice in the matter, since their privacy is frequently invaded, but most people would be surprised to find out how many celebrities have quietly and discreetly ended their marriages without becoming fodder for the tabloids.
Luckily for us non-celebrities, we have much more control over our privacy. You and your spouse are the only people who can decide whether to keep your divorce a private matter or turn it into a public spectacle. No matter what anyone else tells you, no matter how your dog groomer’s brother’s divorce went down, if you and your spouse both decide that you want to handle your divorce privately, you can do so. If your attorney denies that you and your spouse can reach a private agreement that’s suitable to both of you, talk with another attorney. You can listen to the “war stories” from others, or politely tell them that you’re not interested in hearing how other people have gone out of their way to destroy their lives, but rest assured that your divorce does not have to be a war story. Just to be clear, when I talk about divorce proceedings I mean not only the piece of paper that says you’re no longer married, but also the financial issues and parenting arrangements that need to be resolved.
The first step in maintaining your privacy during a divorce or other family law situation is to make the conscious decision to avoid needlessly informing others of what’s happening. That’s pretty much the definition of privacy, right? It’s handled on a need-to-know basis. Not everybody needs to know anything about your divorce and even among those who need to know some things, they don’t necessarily need to know everything. You don’t need to discuss your divorce with co-workers or casual acquaintances. You should assume that everyone with whom you discuss your divorce proceedings will freely discuss your private life with their friends and acquaintances. Most of us have a few trusted individuals in whom we can confide and those are the people we can talk with about our private lives, after making it clear that we expect them to keep this information private. If you feel compelled to provide some answer to any curious (nosy) acquaintances who ask about the status of your divorce, you can probably provide an answer along the lines of “It’s going OK” or “We’re working it out” and if they pry for more information, simply tell them that you don’t wish to discuss it.
The second step in maintaining your privacy is to use a private process to resolve your divorce. If you and your spouse agree that you’re not going to court to resolve your conflicts, you have eliminated the public part of divorce proceedings. Everything you file with the court is a public record and can be accessed by anybody who is curious about your divorce proceedings. Over the years, I have been truly amazed and at times shocked by the allegations, accusations and private details some individuals have included in court filings. Although these publicly filed documents have embarrassed everyone involved and aired the parties’ dirty laundry, I have never been able to link this public disclosure to better results for either party. It makes the whole process more embarrassing, costly and frustrating, but no more effective.
The third step in maintaining your privacy is to make sure your attorneys and anybody else involved in the divorce process realize how valuable your privacy is to you. With that knowledge, they can make sure everything is kept private by not filing any unnecessary documents with the court and guiding the process along.