Anybody Can Go Down to the Courthouse, Pull Those Files, Review Them
Video Transcribed: How do I keep my divorce records in Oklahoma private? I’m a divorce attorney in Tulsa, James Wirth and that’s the question that we’re presented with today is family law records. How do we keep them private in secret so that it’s not an embarrassment should it come up, should people find it? So generally speaking, civil records filed with the court, for the most part, are public records. Anybody can go down to the courthouse, pull those files, review them.
And now we’ve got online records through oscn.net or odcr.com where people don’t even have to go down to the courthouse. You can just log in, do a search by party name or by other means and pull up these files, download or pull up the matters, the cases, download the files and get particularized information. And that’s the general rule is that these are open to the public. The exception to that would be a deprived child case, adoptions, guardianships.
Those are sealed records. They’re not available to the public, but as far as divorces, custody battles, protective orders, legal separations, all of that is available openly to the public. So how do you go about trying to keep yours private?
Well, first off, for some things, for where privacy is really an issue regarding some allegations or maybe personalized records, social security numbers, things like that. If something’s required to be filed and has that kind of information that it’s well-known, doesn’t need to be out in the public, you could file a motion to have it filed under seal, and then it would be a sealed record in the court. But that’s the exception to the rule. The general rule is that all records filed in a divorce are public records, public information, and availability.
So outside of getting a judge to agree that it can be filed under seal, what do you do? Well, there are a couple of tricks. First off, one has to do with jurisdiction and general, we talk about subject matter jurisdiction, which says, if you’re a resident of the state of Oklahoma, then you need to file your divorce in Oklahoma.
You have to be resident for the last six months and in the county for the last 30 days. But that county part doesn’t deal with subject matter jurisdiction. It deals with the venue, your personal jurisdiction, and that can be waived. What that means is that in some cases where you have an agreement, if you’re doing an agreed divorce or an agreed orders modifications, depending on the circumstances, as long as there is an agreement, you may be able to choose a different venue.
So if you’re in Tulsa county, for instance, and you want to make these records more difficult to find, and you have an agreement with your spouse to get a divorce and the terms of that divorce, or even if it’s just an agreement for the early parts, if you can agree to waive venue arguments, you could agree to file some small county across the state where it’s very unlikely that somebody would search to try to find those records. And as long as it is an agreement, it can be waived.
You’ll disclose to the court that you reside in Tulsa county, but you’ll note that you have an agreement to file here, and you can even have a waiver signed and follow that as part of your petition, and it makes it more difficult to find. So that’s one thing you can do.
The second thing that you can do is mess with the names and this one’s more common than you see, and a lot of times, people do that by instead of putting their full names in the style of the case, they’ll put just first initial, last name, and then it makes it more difficult to find.
The other thing in more extreme circumstances, you might just do Jane Doe, John Doe and not have the names, including the style of the case at all. Now in the actual records, in order to have your divorce be legal, you’re going to want to be able to make sure that you’re properly identified. So in the internal parts of the documents, it’s likely to have the full names for identification purposes, but in the style of the case, which is what would be available for search online, it would just have first initial, last name, or John Doe, Jane Doe.
The other thing that we’ve seen, an attorney actually filed a divorce case and they wanted to make it difficult to find. What they did is they truncated their names. So they just had the first part of the last name, not even the complete last name, which made it difficult to find.
So those are some of the tools and tricks that we’ve seen various people use in order to make the records more difficult to find, to go over those again if it is something that’s definitely sensitive of nature, you can file a motion to have it filed under seal so that it’s not public record.
Second, if you have an agreement, then you could waive the venue and have it filed in a small, far-off county or somewhere outside of your normal county where people would not be looking for it. And third, you can have the style of the case list, not your full, complete legal name, but an alias such as John Doe, Jane Doe or first initial, last name, or in one circumstance we saw listed as a truncated last name.
If you’ve got questions about anything related to a family law matter, you’re going to want to talk to an attorney about your specific circumstances rather than take general advice in this video. So to get that scheduled you can go online to makelaweasy.com.