As most Alabamians already know, last week the First Lady of Alabama filed for divorce from Governor Bentley after a half century of marriage. Shortly after the complaint was filed, the parties jointly asked a Tuscaloosa County Judge to seal the records in the divorce proceedings and the request was granted allowing only the parties, their attorneys and employees thereof and court employees’ access to the divorce records. The reason the request was made is due to Governor Bentley holding “a prominent office in the state of Alabama, and it would be in the parties’ best interest that the public not be able to access the record in the divorce action”.
According to news sources, the ruling to seal the records cites Holland v. Eads, 614 So. 2d 1012 (Ala. 1993), a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court outlining how requests to seal cases should be handled and the factors to consider. First, upon a motion to seal, the “court shall conduct a hearing”. Id. at 1016. The Alabama Supreme Court held that records should not be sealed unless “the moving party has proved by clear and convincing evidence” that the documents contain information that
- constitutes a trade secret… or
- is a matter of national security;… or
- promotes scandal or defamation; or
- pertains to wholly private family matters, such as divorce…
- poses a serious threat of harassment, exploitation, physical intrusion, or other particularized harm to the parties…
- poses the potential harm to third person not parties to litigation.
The provision the lawyers in the Bentley v. Bentley matter relied upon to have the records sealed was that the case pertains to “wholly private family matters”. Like the Bentleys, other couples could ask the domestic court to have their divorce records sealed as well but the matter is left at the discretion of the domestic court judge.
If you are divorced or contemplating divorce and having financial difficulties, please contact your local Bond & Botes office to ask for a free consultation to discuss your financial options.
Mary Pool is a shareholder of the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Montgomery and Opelika, Alabama. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Auburn University at Montgomery, and a Juris Doctorate from Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law. She has represented thousands of clients over her more than 11 years working in the bankruptcy field. Read her full bio here.