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Can anyone have their divorce records sealed?

The media coverage of the divorce of southern governor Robert Bentley and his wife of 50 years has spread across the nation. Many people are angry that the politician was able to convince a family court judge to seal his divorce records, which shields the details of the couple's divorce from the public eye. Divorce records in Maryland and elsewhere are generally considered to be public information, and as Bentley is a public official, many feel strongly that he should be held to the same standard as any other divorcing spouse.

Bentley and his wife petitioned the court to seal the records, a request that was granted just days after the matter was filed. In making that request, the Bentleys asserted that the details of their divorce were a completely private matter, and that their "prominent" position within state politics makes it in their best interests that the details of their divorce not be made public. This is an example of an appeal based on personal interests.

Another approach that couples can take is an appeal to the public good. These types of arguments make the assertion that the details of a couple's divorce contain information that could pose a threat to national security if released to the public. A similar appeal asserts that important trade secrets are contained within a divorce case, and must be protected from public release.

When it comes to asking a court of law to seal one's divorce records, the outcome depends on a number of factors, not all of which are within the scope of control of the petitioning parties. Judges evaluate such requests on a case-by-case basis, and there is no guarantee that such a request will be granted. For Maryland couples who would like to seal their divorce records, the best way to attain that goal is to present a well-crafted legal argument as to why doing so is in the best interests of either the parties themselves or the public at large.

Source: al.com, "Can you get your divorce records sealed like Gov. Bentley?", Leada Gore, Sept. 10, 2015

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