Introduction

            Divorce cases in Virginia are heard in circuit courts, which are open to the public. This means that anyone could potentially look up the information. However, many parties do not want the details of their private life to be viewed by anyone besides themselves. Is it possible for a divorce proceeding to be sealed? Unfortunately, the answer is usually no. The reason for this is that the courts want to preserve the accountability of judicial rulings and the ability for the public to hold these decisions accountable through review and public scrutiny. However, there are some limited situations in which the courts will seal a record. 

Five Factor Test

            Judge David A. Oblon of Fairfax County outlined a five-factor test that Virginia courts may should use when reviewing motions to seal divorce records:

  • Proof of real (not abstract) harm;
  • Protection of children, when harm or potential harm is shown;
  • Documents contain privileged materials, identifiable information or trade secrets; 
  • False information; and
  • Ancillary or tangential information. 

If any of those factors are met, the court may grant a motion to seal. However, even if a court does grant such a motion, it is likely that they will order a partial seal. The documents that the Judge finds to fall under one of the factors listed above will be sealed, but some of the documents, including the motion and order to seal, may remain public.

Conclusion

            If you would like to have your divorce record sealed or are anticipating a divorce and desire the filing to be sealed, please call our office at (804) 325-1245 so we may review your situation and see if it complies with the application of Virginia’s five-factor test. The attorneys at Smith | Strong, PLC will carefully review your situation discreetly and lead your family law matter with your goals in mind. 

Editorial Assistance by: Kala Swenson

H. Van Smith
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