One of the primary concerns that clients have in divorce is privacy. One of the main reasons that couples opt for collaborative divorce or mediation, for instance, is to avoid the public show that a litigated divorce can bring.
But regardless of how a couple gets divorced, there’s still a public aspect to it. Because a divorce decree is a signed legal document, approved by a judge and filed in court, it’s part of the public record in the county where it’s filed. It’s only in rare instances where a divorce decree would be sealed.
So, theoretically, anyone who wanted to comb through the court records could find your decree, and be privy to sensitive information about the size of your marital estate and other financial details.
There is a mechanism that exists in the Texas Family Code, however, that allows couples to keep the details of their divorce private while adhering to the law. It’s covered in Section 7.006 of the Texas Family Code, and it’s called an Agreement Incident to Divorce.
Essentially, when a couple draws this up, it confirms all the splits of property, assets and liabilities. The judge can review it, see that it meets his or her standards for fairness, and then sign off on what’s been agreed. But the agreement itself is just referred to in the decree – it’s not on file as a public record, so that if there are significant assets or significant debts, or anything else that the couple doesn’t want in the public record, then the whole world doesn’t have the right to know that.
The specific language is as follows:
(a) To promote amicable settlement of disputes in a suit for divorce or annulment, the spouses may enter into a written agreement concerning the division of the property and the liabilities of the spouses and maintenance of either spouse. The agreement may be revised or repudiated before rendition of the divorce or annulment unless the agreement is binding under another rule of law.
(b) If the court finds that the terms of the written agreement in a divorce or annulment are just and right, those terms are binding on the court. If the court approves the agreement, the court may set forth the agreement in full or incorporate the agreement by reference in the final decree.
(c) If the court finds that the terms of the written agreement in a divorce or annulment are not just and right, the court may request the spouses to submit a revised agreement or may set the case for a contested hearing.
The third part of that is important, emphasizing that it still has to meet the judge’s standards to move forward – and, if the couple can’t come to an agreement that does that, then it might indeed need to be heard publicly in order to be resolved. For those parties who want to retain their privacy, there’s an incentive provided with the Agreement Incident to Divorce to make sure it works for both people in a given divorce.
While it’s not something that our clients typically request, it is something that we can definitely offer and make available, particularly for those clients who come to us with privacy concerns or situations that would make privacy of paramount importance. At the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, we want the solution that works best for you and your children, and if privacy is part of that solution, we’re happy that the Texas Family Code gives us an option to better secure that.