December 20, 2010
Montana Considering How To Handle Privacy In Family Law Cases
The Montana Supreme Court is considering revamping privacy rules that would limit the amount of sensitive personal information contained in documents filed in family law cases. Private information can include social security numbers, dates of birth, financial account numbers, medical and school records, and other personal identifiers for children. Some of this information may be in a clerk's office and available to the public. The concern, here, is that more and more litigation documents will become available over time via archives on the Internet, and this could be the source of fraud.
The Court's concern is to balance the right of the public to know what's going on in the courts against the individual's right to privacy. As the Court states:
To be clear, our concern is not that a child's information should be protected merely because his or her parents are divorcing, but because of some of the allegations and evidence that may arise during a parenting plan proceeding. For example, a parent may allege the other parent is a drug addict, the child needs treatment for severe acne, and the child should have adult supervision around an uncle who molested her when she was 3 years old. The judge may well need to consider this information and any supporting evidence in adopting a parenting plan. In addition, if the child is later placed under the state's temporary investigative authority, the assigned social worker may need access to the information in the court records. But placing this information on the Internet with the child's name and address so that the child's peers, potential employers, and predators can easily and anonymously access it could be very damaging, and even dangerous, to the child.
One possible implementation of privacy rules would be for parties to file a "sensitive information sheet" which contains accurate information that courts a parties could use while redacted documents would be available for public access. An alternative would be to restrict access to all documents except final orders. Family law is one of those areas where relationships can be so damaged that parties resort to court actions as a way of waging war on their opponent, even to their own detriment. Publicly available filings can include false allegations that can be taken out of context by the general public.
The potential court privacy rule amendments began with a petition filed by State Law Librarian Judy Meadows and Elaine Dahl of Montana Legal Services. The text of the Court order setting forth two alternative proposals is here. The AP is reporting on this development which has been picked up by any number of news services. One of those sources is the Washington Post. As a side note, the Court has invited the Appellate Defender's Office and the Criminal Appellate Bureau of the Montana Attorney General's Office to submit comment on whether these rules should apply to criminal cases as well. [MG]
Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I think family disputes that don't involve violence or abuse of some kind should be handled in the family. For me, in my opinion I've always recommended ADR, that's the best way to keep one's privacy in a family dispute: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/04/02/alternative-dispute-resolution-%e2%80%93-it%e2%80%99s-like-the-new-coke-just-not-awful-and-unnecessary/
Posted by: Guile Honda | Dec 20, 2010 1:41:44 PM