“But I hardly even know these people!”

Protecting the financial privacy interests of nonparties to a Florida divorce, part 1

In the course of a divorce, detailed financial information is often necessary to enable appropriate and fair decision-making regarding property division, alimony and child support. Sometimes, a spouse’s business or personal affairs involve third parties.

For example, a spouse may own a partnership interest in a dental practice with others or a vacation home might be co-owned by the divorcing couple and their in-laws. To place a value on such an asset or accurately project future income, personal financial information about those nonparties may be necessary or at least relevant.

Of course, those people might not want their private information shared with the spouses or, more likely, with the public. The concerns can arise in three different phases of a divorce:

  • Pretrial during negotiations between the parties or in preparation for trial through discovery (via a deposition or request for documents, for example)
  • During trial through testimony or submission of evidence
  • After the divorce is final through public court records

So, what can that third party do to keep that information out of the public arena, especially if the matter goes to trial or if it is cited within a marital settlement agreement that becomes part of the final divorce decree?

The short answer is that the third party does have privacy rights, but that this area of Florida law is complicated and not completely developed, so it is a good idea for a nonparty facing these issues to speak with an experienced Florida lawyer about the specific circumstances as early a possible to maximize the containment of sensitive information.

We previously posted in detail in this space about Florida law and privacy of court divorce records. As we explained, court records – even in a divorce – are public as government records unless the court seals them. A person may ask the court to seal all or part of a court record if they can show any of six exceptions to presumed openness, which we listed in our previous post.

Some of those exceptions may justify sealing in the case of a third party’s financial information, including: constitutional privacy protections, protection of trade secrets, protection of “innocent third parties” or prevention of injury to someone by releasing information subject to a right to privacy or court precedent.

Notably, Florida court staff do remove Social Security numbers as well as account numbers from official records and if missed, anyone can request redaction.

In part 2 of this post, we will talk about how Florida courts have handled these issues.

 

 

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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