Why Seal a Record in a Family Court Case

Every divorce or family court case deals with information that is embarrassing and personal. You might ask, should I ask my lawyer or the court to seal the records in my case? the answer is that it depends on the parties. Also, it there a real reason to seal your case.

In the case of Ex Parte Gentry,a family court case in Jefferson County, Alabama, the Court sealed the record on its’ own initiative without a hearing from the parties. Gentry and his wife had three children. The wife dies in February 2014. The maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather both filed petitions for visitation in Family Court.

The Father moved to dismiss the claims. The Court in December, 2016, placed the entire case under “Seal” and dismissed the Father’s claims to dismiss the grandparent’s petition for visitation. The Father appealed the ruling more than 42 days after the Order was entered. The Appellate Court denied the appeal on all issues except sealing the record.

The Father argued that the maternal step-grandfather was not a grandparent as defined by the Alabama Code statute 30-3-4.2(a)(1). The father relied on the argument that the grandparents lacked standing in the case. the appellate court held that the appeal was filed untimely and should be denied. The appellate court did rule that the trail court was unjustified to seal the record.

The Appellate Court held that a trial court may not seal a record unless a hearing is conducted and there is clear and convincing evidence to seal a record. The appellate court defined ways to seal a record. First, is there a trade secret or commercial information, second, related to national security, third, relates to scandal or defamation information of the parties, fourth, and most importantly, is does the case relate to family matters, divorce, child custody, or adoption.

The most important take away from this case is to decide when to ask a court to seal a record. Sometimes, sealing he record seems like a good idea to protect parties from their information being a public record. However, sealing a record, may also raise questions to the general public as to whether there was more scandalous information that needed to be protected. Therefore, asking a court to seal a record in a family law case should be done on a case by case basis.

If you need a family law or divorce attorney, contact Ingram Law LLC at (205) 236-3997.

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