When can Divorce Court Tax and Financial Records be Sealed or Redacted?

The need to seal sensitive financial records in a family law court file is an issue that occasionally arises as a result of the divorce discovery process.  The current ability of divorcing parties to obtain a court order to seal their financial records has become increasingly more difficult following a 2006 appellate court holding in Marriage of Burkle (2006) 135 CA4th 1045, 1063 that declared California’s family law sealing statute found under Fam C §2024.6, as unconstitutional.

 

Limits Apply to Sealing Family Law Proceedings in California

In Burkle, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press filed suit to oppose the litigant’s ex parte request to seal his financial documents, citing as grounds for the position the public’s right to know and a presumed right of access to records in divorce cases. The trial court found and the appeals court upheld a finding that that Fam C §2024.6 was unconstitutional as violate of the First Amendment as the section was “not narrowly tailored to serve the privacy interests it is intended to protect, and less restrictive means of protecting the privacy interests are available.”

 

The Statutory authority declared unconstitutional is found in Fam C §2024.6. which provided for the sealing of financial information delineating the assets and debts in a particular family law case.  This section provided a means for any party to a family law case to simply make an ex parte request, without the need for a hearing, in order to seal any court pleading that lists the party’s financial assets and liabilities.

Redaction of Sensitive Information is Possible Under Fam C §2024.5

There is an alternative to sealing sensitive financial information that leads to more limited relief, under Fam C §2024.5(a). This section allows for the redaction of “any social security number from any pleading, attachment, document, or other written material filed with the court pursuant to a petition for dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage, or legal separation in order to protect social security numbers from being stolen or used for identity theft.