Brad Pitt’s request to seal court records denied; what does that mean?

If you have been following the Brangelina news as closely as we have, you may have heard in early December 2016 that Brad filed an emergency motion with the Los Angeles court requesting that the Court’s records relating to the parties custody dispute be “sealed.” Brad’s request was denied.

This may have left you with many questions: What does it mean to have records under seal? Why would this be necessary? What are the requirements to place records under seal? And why was Brad’s request denied? Read on for answers!

To begin, you should know that family law files are public record in California. This means that anything filed with the court in a divorce or custody proceeding becomes part of your court file and can be viewed by any member of the public at any time. It is as simple as going down to the courthouse and making a simple request to view a file. To place a record under seal means that there is some sort of confidential or sensitive information that, although part of your court file, will remain confidential and will not become part of the public record. The sealed record would be available only for the eyes of the parties directly involved in the case.

In California, the California Rules of Court (“CRC”) govern the procedure and rules for filing a record under seal. First, the CRC state that no file can be placed under seal without a court order. This means that parties to a family court proceeding cannot simply agree between themselves that their information should be sealed; the court itself has to make that decision. This requires that a motion be filed requesting that the court make such an order.

Likewise, if anyone (including the parties, a member of the public, or the court itself) wishes to unseal any court records, this cannot be done without a court order.  If such a request is made, the court is required to look at a number of factors before making a decision to unseal records. Also, a request/order to unseal can include the entire record or just part of it.

If a party files a motion to have records sealed, they must also provide the court with a declaration that states enough facts to justify the sealing. The court may only make such an order if it finds that there are enough facts to prove the following (per CRC §2.550).

“(1)There exists an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the record;

(2)The overriding interest supports sealing the record;

(3)A substantial probability exists that the overriding interest will be prejudiced if the record is not sealed;

(4)The proposed sealing is narrowly tailored; and

(5)No less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interest.”

Given the massive amount of media attention surrounding Brad and Angelina’s split, it is not surprising that Brad Pitt would want to have their records place under seal. Most importantly, it seems that he wanted to keep the children out of the media buzz as much as possible. Unfortunately though, Brad was apparently unable to present enough information to the court to j such an order. On the bright side for us, that means we can continue following Brangelina’s story as it unfolds, and report and educate you as notable issues arise in the case.

Please contact us if you are considering divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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