A nasty divorce may not necessarily remain a secret, as NASCAR chief Brian France has learned. Court documents unsealed Wednesday reveal details of his finances and his acrimonious divorce.
The documents were finally obtained by the reporters after a five-year court battle. France wanted the divorce files kept under seal, reports The Charlotte Observer.
With nosy media types scrutinizing celebrities and their personal lives, is there a way to keep the details of a divorce under wraps?
Need For Privacy
NASCAR chief Brian France isn't the only high-profile figure with problems keeping court records out of the media's hands. For example, former "Real Housewife" Bethenny Frankel recently re-filed her divorce case under an anonymous caption to avoid public scrutiny.
Most courts will place divorce documents under seal if there is a need to:
- Protect children from being identified,
- Protect domestic violence victims,
- Keep Social Security information and bank accounts private, or
- Safeguard business secrets.
Reasons for Unsealing
When The Charlotte Observer and other news outlets were successful in petitioning the court to reveal the details of France's 2008 divorce, they argued that they were public records, the Associated Press reports.
Court records are, by default, considered public records. Aside from the concerns mentioned above, courts don't usually consider an individual's privacy as balanced against a public's right to court records.
Although France fought the unsealing of his divorce records -- and even appealed the decision to unseal the documents -- the court ruled in 2011 that the public interest in the records outweighed France's "right to secrecy," reports the AP.
Can Anyone Petition to Unseal Records?
It's not just the media that can get records unsealed. Private citizens can do it too, although depending on the type of records and the rules of your specific county, there may be some hoops to jump through.
Regardless of whether you are just an interested bystander or a reporter, in order to get the records unsealed, you must prove that your First Amendment interest in having access to the court records outweigh any state interest in keeping them sealed. For that, a lawyer experienced in dealing with constitutional law issues may be able to help.
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