Divorce can be messy, especially if each party is fighting for different parts of a shared estate, or if there is a battle over alimony, child support, or child custody. When the final ruling is made, each party may feel like everything is finished and the entire situation is behind them. But in some cases, the ability of others to access your divorce records could affect each party for years to come.
That’s right – in the Sunshine State it is possible for complete strangers to get a look at your divorce records. Here’s how it works.
How to Access Florida Divorce Records
There are lots of questions that people typically ask when thinking about getting a divorce, but whether others will have access to the information typically isn’t one of them.
It should be, though, because Florida has been documenting and storing divorce records since 1927, and these records are available to the general public – though thankfully it’s not as simple as just doing a quick Google search.
Anyone who wants to access Florida divorce records must fill out an application that includes the names of the parties involved, as well as the date and place of dissolution. They must also give their reasons for accessing the divorce records, and their personal information (including proof of a photo ID). A $5 fee is also required. This can be done online, over the phone, or through fax/mail.
While most offices may take weeks to send the information out to interested parties, requesting the information through the internet has significantly increased the speed in which someone can access it.
Why Should You Care?
For many people getting a divorce in Florida, being able to access those records isn’t a huge deal. But if you have a larger estate, or criminal accusations are made during divorce proceedings, having this information out in the open might have unintended consequences.
Take, for example, the story of Richard and Alicia Stephenson. Richard Stephenson is the founder of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He and his ex-wife are also accustomed to a very luxurious lifestyle, an image that was made public and shared earlier this year.
The two have been at odds since divorcing seven years ago, and have failed to come to an agreement on how to split their wealth. Alicia Stephenson has been reported as seeking over $400,000 a month, as she is eyeing real estate in both Chicago and Florida. Richard Stephenson and his team are hoping to pay far less – $250,000 to buy real estate and $5,000 a month.
The odd juxtaposition of a man who founded cancer treatment centers and his lavish lifestyle (including the ownership of multiple private jets) has contributed to a bit of a public relations crisis for Richard Stephenson. It can be uncomfortable for anyone, especially a high-profile figure, to have details about their life and financial situation aired out to the public.
Bottom line: consider what could come out during your divorce proceedings.
Can I Get My Divorce Record Sealed?
Knowing that these records are public is also useful for preventing this information from getting out in the first place. If you are planning on getting a divorce and have sensitive information that you would prefer not to share with the general public, you do have options. Parties can request that certain documents aren’t filed to prevent them from being public knowledge.
A Florida family lawyer will not only be able to represent you in court and guide you through the settlement or hearing that will ultimately decide your divorce ruling, but he or she can also assist you in the process of sealing, or hiding private documents that you do not want on public records.