By: Rachel Leck
Family law matters–such as separation, divorce, and child custody–are, by their very nature, highly personal and private. You may be concerned about maintaining your privacy as much as possible if you are involved in a family law case.
In order to settle these matters, the people involved are generally required to exchange information, such as financial records about income, assets, and debts. In some cases, other documents, such as medical or counselling records, police reports, or expert assessments on a variety of issues, might be required to determine the outcome. Most people would agree that this information can be highly personal and sensitive.
Will my information become public in a family law matter?
How much of your information becomes part of the public record depends on which type of process you use to settle your matter.
If you go to court to resolve a family matter, the rules of court often require certain documents, particularly financial information, be filed. Information that is filed with the court becomes part of the public record. There is also an “open court” principle that is very important in Canadian law that means that most legal proceedings, such as trials, are open to the public.
In some very limited circumstances, a court can order a file to be sealed, but it is quite unusual and difficult to get. Instead of sealing an entire file, a court may instead “sanitize” a file by, for example, using initials instead of full names, and removing specific references to private information, such as birth dates, addresses and other identifying information of the people involved.
Do I have options to keep my information more private?
Instead of going to court, some family law matters may be resolved through mediation, negotiation, arbitration, or a collaborative process. You will still usually need to exchange the same type of information, but because these are private settlements, the material you exchange does not need to be filed with the court and does not become part of the public record. In some cases, your lawyer might recommend that specific confidentiality clauses be negotiated in order to keep sensitive information private.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This publication is the fifteenth installment of our firm’s Legal Matters series, which answers a reader’s question every week. If you have a general legal question that you would like to have addressed please send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.