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Can an Illinois Divorce Be Kept Private

Way back in the day, “what will the neighbors think?” was an appropriate concern in pre-divorce situations. But that concern isn’t as valid today. Divorce’s moral acceptability rating recently rose above 75%. There are two ways to look at this number. On the one hand, divorce’s moral acceptability rate is at an all-time high. On the other hand, almost one in four people still believe divorce is immoral. There’s probably at least one such person in your social and/or vocational circle.

“What will the neighbors think” isn’t the only concern. Many people file for divorce because they fear for their physical safety or emotional well-being, or for the physical safety or emotional well-being of their children. Very few people go off the rails and act violently when their spouses file for divorce. However, these instances have happened before, and they will happen again.

Both these concerns are valid. For that reason, if you want to keep a marriage dissolution private, an experienced Bolingbrook divorce attorney has some options. Some of these options are better than others, which is one thing to consider. Additionally, filing for a divorce usually means setting priorities. Usually, a public divorce is the only way to divide property, establish a child visitation schedule, and set financial support obligations. If these things are more important than privacy, well, there’s your answer.

Non-Divorce Alternatives

Some people need to remain legally married to qualify for health insurance or financial benefits. Others belong to religions that either prohibit divorce or strongly frown on it. Still, other people aren’t quite ready to take the divorce plunge, but they need some official time apart.

For people in one of these situations, Illinois is one of the few states where legal separation is still a thing. If the spouses are currently living apart, a judge can formalize that arrangement by entering child custody, spousal support, and other orders. The couple is still legally married, and separation agreements don’t address property division.

These things may sound attractive, but they’re often sound and fury signifying nothing. In our experience, if one spouse files for legal separation, the other spouse usually counterclaims for divorce.

A completely informal “Irish divorce” could be an option as well. Since divorce was illegal in Ireland until the 1990s, many estranged husbands and wives simply agreed to live apart. These informal agreements often include property division, financial support, and child custody arrangements. A Bolingbrook divorce attorney can help these spouses prepare the appropriate paperwork.

This approach is dangerous because these documents are unenforceable in court. If one spouse unilaterally backs out, the other spouse has no recourse.

Officially Sealing Divorce Records

According to Illinois law, “All records, dockets, and books required by law to be kept by such clerks shall be deemed public records, and shall at all times be open to inspection without fee or reward, and all persons shall have free access for inspection and examination to such records, docket and books, and also to all papers on file in different clerks’ offices and shall have the right to take memoranda and abstracts thereof.”

That legal provision seems comprehensive and straightforward. However, the court can seal civil records, if a Bolingbrook divorce attorney makes an appropriate motion. According to one of the leading cases in the area, 1992’s In Re Marriage of Johnson, the moving party must prove:

  • Compelling Reason for Restricted Access: “What will the neighbors think” may be a good reason to seal court records, especially in some cases. However, it’s probably not a compelling reason. Litigant safety, on the other hand, is definitely a compelling reason, especially if there are verified misconduct allegations. Everything else is somewhere in the middle.
  • Public’s Interests Protected: Public officials, like judges, cannot conduct business behind closed doors. The public has a right to know about divorces. However, the public doesn’t have the right to know the details about these matters, at least in most cases. For example, a court could seal the children’s names, but not the adult’s names.

Once civil court records are sealed, they’re sealed forever, even if someone files a motion to modify or otherwise re-open the case. Instead, a judge must grant a motion to unseal the records.

These movants must show that they have a compelling reason to see the records. Inquiring minds want to know is not a compelling reason. Alternatively, a movant could argue that the original order sealed too much.

Unofficially Sealing Divorce Records

A Bolingbrook divorce attorney cannot seal divorce records. However, a lawyer can approach the case in such a way that there’s nothing to seal.

For personal injury, contract disputes, and other such cases, Illinois is a fact pleading state. The petitions, motions, and other paperwork in these matters must be very specific. But family courts aren’t like that. Vague, general pleadings are acceptable in these matters.

Property division is a good example. Frequently, attorneys draft very specific orders, such as “the 2022 Chevrolet Cobalt, VIN whatever, shall be awarded to Petitioner.” A phrase like “the party’s assets shall be divided equitably” might suffice, especially if there’s a separate property agreement. More on that below.

All bets are off in this area if the divorce is a default. Language in these orders must be specific enough to enforce later.

Court-filed documents are public records. Non-field documents aren’t public records. Therefore, instead of including all the details in an agreed order, many attorneys insert language like an allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time, a premarital agreement, or a marital settlement agreement “incorporated by reference.”

The incorporated-by-reference documents are kept in another place, like an attorney’s server. The parties can then refer to these documents if later disputes arise. Some judges balk at this strategy, but it usually never hurts to try.

Count on a Dedicated Bolingbrook Divorce Lawyer

Divorce records aren’t necessarily public records. For a free consultation with a knowledgeable and proficient Bolingbrook divorce lawyer, contact Keller Legal Services by calling 630-505-1515. We represent child support and family law clients in and around Aurora, Wheaton, Naperville, and Bolingbrook, as well as throughout DuPage, Kane, and Will Counties.