15 Feb Protecting personal information in a New Jersey divorce
by Jeralyn Lawrence, Family Law Attorney, Lawrence Law
The basic presumption in New Jersey is that Court records are open to the public. This means that anyone can go into a New Jersey courthouse and review a divorce file of a relative, friend, or even a stranger.
Before irreconcilable differences became a viable option as a cause of action for divorce, many litigants filed for divorce under extreme cruelty. They cited example after example of reasons, most of them unpleasant, as to why they sought a divorce. These filings are and were subject to review by any person without any basis or reason needed to do so.
After a recent amendment to our Court Rules, our Court Rules are even more relaxed now than before. There is a movement in New Jersey to have certain Court records and documents scanned and made available on the internet. In only a matter of time people will be able to do a Google search on their computer and find a divorce Complaint or other pleading or other divorce filings that they wish.
Most people are alarmed that such personal and private information is available for public consumption. I am here to tell you that it is available and open for public review. It happens every day and people are consuming and digesting personal information contained in a public Court file.
Information To Protect
As such, clients need to be careful and ensure that when providing documents to their attorneys that they delete or redact any of their personal information or identifiers. These include, but are not limited to:
· Social Security numbers
· Driver’s license numbers
· Vehicle plate numbers
· Insurance policy numbers
· Bank account numbers
· Credit card numbers
If these personal identifiers are not redacted, they may very well end up in the Court’s file, which is an open file and parts of it subject to public review. One day, you may also find them on the internet and available for a more global review.
Help Your Attorney
The Court mandates that attorneys file certain documents with the Court and requires that the attorney add personal identifiers. Make sure your attorney takes every effort to protect these identifiers so the public cannot gain access to them. The first line of defense, however, starts with the client. The client must be diligent in protecting their privacy and be careful in providing these documents to their attorney.
It makes financial sense for the client to redact these identifiers and not rely on the attorney. Attorneys bill by the hour. The redaction process, depending on the complexity of the case, can be time consuming and costly.
Work together with your attorney to comply with all Court Rules and New Jersey public policy requiring open Court records. Likewise, be vigilant to protect your personal identifiers and confidential information. Please contact me at moc.m1603784164rifwa1603784164lwal@1603784164ecner1603784164walj1603784164 if you have questions about this post or any other family law matter.
Jeralyn Lawrence is a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung. She also serves as Second Vice President of the New Jersey State Bar Association (slated to become President in 2022), is the Past Chair of the Family Law Section of the NJSBA, and serves as Second Vice-President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She can be reached at moc.m1603784164rifwa1603784164lwal@1603784164ecner1603784164walj1603784164 or (908) 645-1000.
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