Can a Judge Open a Sealed Divorce in Michigan?

by Jean Henegan
Sealed records are unsearchable by the public.

Sealed records are unsearchable by the public.

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Due to the private and personal information that may be revealed during the course of a divorce, an individual may request that a judge seal divorce records to keep certain facts from being accessible by the public. Michigan allows divorce records to be sealed, but it also allows for a judge to unseal, or make public, previously sealed divorce records upon request.

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Sealing a Divorce

Divorce records are classified as public records, and as such, are accessible to the general public upon their request. To prevent divorce records from being available to the public, one or both of the parties involved in the divorce may request that the judge seal the records, thus ensuring that they remain private and unsearchable by the public. However, as Michigan law is strongly in favor of allowing free access to information, the party asking for the sealing of the records must provide a compelling reason to the judge, in writing, before he considers granting the request.

Compelling Reasons to Seal

For a divorce to be sealed, Michigan law requires a requesting party to show good cause that certain personal information should be protected. While the law does not offer specifics, cases that involve descriptions of mental, physical or sexual abuse, corporate secrets, or sensational details that may reflect poorly on one party, are often sealed. It is up to the individual requesting the seal to convince the court that his privacy should be protected.

After a Divorce is Sealed

Once a divorce is sealed, access to the file by public search is barred. If an individual attempts to search for the case, he will receive the message that "no public record exists." If you receive such a message when searching for a divorce case, you may petition the court to unseal, or "open," the records and make them available to the public.

Unsealing a Divorce

Anyone may request that a judge unseal a divorce. You must file a petition with the court asking that the judge unseal the case and state the reasoning behind your request. While there are no specific reasons outlined in the Michigan Court Rules, the most common reason for requesting that a divorce be unsealed is that it was sealed for an improper reason in the first place. Such claims usually arise when a divorce is sealed for a public figure so as to protect their image or when a divorce is sealed to protect the reputation of one of the parties but without cause. You will appear in court to present the motion to unseal and your reasons for the request. If the judge grants the motions, the records will be unsealed. If the judge denies the motion, the records will remain sealed and you may appeal.