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Can Divorce proceedings be made public?

Oct 3, 2016

Carr & Co

In the wake of the separation of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie you may be wondering how such specific details of their separation became worldwide news in such a short period of time. You may also be concerned that details of your own divorce proceedings are at risk of such exposure.

Many of the articles circulating the internet include pictures of Brad and Angelina’s divorce papers, filed on 19 September 2016 in the Superior Court of California. The divorce papers identify their personal details, details of their children and the reasons for their separation.

In California, documents filed in divorce proceedings become matters of public record. There are certain exceptions to this rule, including circumstances where a party has specifically requested that their documents be filed “under seal”.

The restriction on publication of court proceedings

In Australia, the rules on the exposure of Family Court proceedings are governed primarily by the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) (“the Act”). Section 121 of the Act deals specifically with the restriction on publication of court proceedings. That is, details of a Family Court case cannot be published in print or electronically. To do so may constitute the commission of an offence under the Act.

If a person does wish to use or publish information relating to Family Court proceedings in Australia they must first seek permission from the Court. The Court will then be required to consider whether it is in the public interest to have such information published. Judgments of Family Court proceedings in Australia are anonymised to avoid exposure of the parties to those proceedings. It is very rare for the Family Court to publicise the names of parties to proceedings before it.

There are significant differences between the publicity of divorce proceedings in California compared with Australia.

You can be sure that if you are filing for divorce in Australia your information is not going to be disclosed to the public in the same fashion as Brad and Angelina!