A recent Court of Appeal case set me thinking about privacy issues in divorce. In the case in question a divorcee embroiled in a legal fight over money with her ex-husband failed to persuade senior judges to bar journalists from revealing her identity.
It has long been thought in some circles that there should be more openness in family court proceedings. That decisions should not be made in secret and that people have a right to know what is going on behind closed doors.
There may be good arguments for this, but would you want to have your financial details discussed in open court and reported for everyone to hear and read about?
The public have long been able to attend court hearings heard in “open court”. Certain family financial proceedings and appeals are heard in open court and since 2009 the press have also been able to gain access to such hearings. They are not allowed to report whatever they like, but they can give details about financial assets and report in broad terms about the proceedings.
Put simply, if your financial case is heard in open court, there is no guarantee that details of your case can’t be published. If you, for whatever reason, but I suppose this particularly applies to celebrities and business people with significant assets, don’t want your financial affairs being made public the answer is to try and avoid court hearings altogether.
Options for avoiding court in family proceedings
The first and most straight-forward option is to reach an agreement directly between yourselves or with the help of a qualified family lawyer. A lawyer can help you decide what is fair and negotiate a settlement with your ex partner on your behalf. Obviously, this relies on the parties being willing to negotiate and that’s often the sticking point.
Some people choose to attend family mediation sessions together to discuss the issues. Others are able to reach an agreement through a collaborative family law process. In either case, skilled third parties and family law specialists help the couple reach an agreement they are both satisfied with, without the need to ask the Courts to decide.
More recently arbitration has been introduced in family cases as a way of helping couples to resolve disputes overall or on one or two specific points. You might think of arbitration as having your own family judge, appointed jointly by you and your ex, who will hear the arguments you both wish to make but can do so in private.
Once you have an agreement, that can then be documented and sent to court for a judge to approve. This process is private and not open to public or press scrutiny.
These different ways guarantee that the overall outcome of the case is private, which is surely how most people would like their financial dealings on separation to stay. In my experience, divorce and separation is tough enough for everyone concerned. Knowing that you have reached a fair and sensible outcome that cannot be made available for all to see helps everyone move forward.
Family law solicitor, Stoke on Trent