It may come to a surprise to clients involved in divorce proceedings that the records are generally publicly available. Divorce files are usually filed in the courthouse where the divorce proceedings took place. The record may include the petition for divorce, any affidavits, and the divorce order. In some cases, the record will also include transcripts of examinations, documents pertaining to child custody, and copies of marriage certificates. These can be publicly accessed.

Divorce matters are usually filed in the courthouse where the divorce proceedings took place. The record may include the petition for divorce, any affidavits, and the divorce order. In some cases, the record housed in that courthouse will also include transcripts of examinations, documents pertaining to child custody, and copies of marriage certificates. These can be publicly accessed.

High Profile Divorces and Privacy

In light of this, situations can arise in which individuals want to seal their records to prevent public access.

Recently, Governor General-designate Julie Payette made the news when she sought to keep the details of her U.S. divorce private after learning that a group of Canadian media organizations was intending to report on her family law matters.

Payette’s divorce involves two separate cases in a Maryland court – one filed by her ex-husband requesting a separation, which was later abandoned, and one filed by Payette for an absolute divorce (filed in 2013 and granted in 2015). Records of these proceedings had been publicly available since 2013, until they were recently ordered sealed.

Following the announcement of her appointment as Governor General on July 13, Payette filed emergency motions with Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals to keep the files sealed while she appealed a decision to make them public. Payette argued that she did not want her family to revisit the “difficult moments” they had gone through, and wanted to preserve their privacy:

As a mother, I need to be mindful of the impact on my family. Very few families are immune from difficult moments in life — mine included. Divorces are about fractured relationships and often, a sad parting of ways. This is particularly difficult when children are involved, thus the importance of protecting the ones we love and care about.

Last Friday, a Maryland judge granted Payette’s request to keep the files sealed until at least November, when the appeal hearing is scheduled.

Since then, Payette’s lawyers filed a further notice asking the court to dismiss the request for an appeal, and to unseal the documents. Payette has told CBC news that she changed her mind “for reasons of transparency and to leave no doubt.”

Divorce Proceedings

Payette’s divorce proceedings have lasted four years and played out in two jurisdictions. In May 2013, her ex-husband filed for legal separation in Maryland. In June of that year, Payette filed a separate case for an absolute divorce in the same Maryland court.

The Maryland court granted Payette an absolute divorce in April 2015, the case has continued. This past June, the court dismissed a motion from Payette for salary to be withheld for child support purposes.

Current Governor General David Johnston’s term expires in September, and Payette is expected to begin her role in early October.

If you have questions about family law matters, contact knowledgeable Windsor family lawyer Jason P. Howie at call 519.973.1500 or online. We have significant experience advising clients on separation, divorce, and related issues. Many of our clients are referred to us by former and current clients, as well as by lawyers, accountants and other professionals.