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Privacy and public information in Illinois divorce cases

How public does divorce have to be? Or, put another way, to what extent can the terms of a divorce settlement be kept private?

Divorce is a matter of state law. So the questions posed above aren't answered in the abstract. The answer in Illinois will depend on Illinois divorce law, just as other states will look to their own specific laws. Overall, however, court systems in the U.S. are committed to openness, even in sensitive divorce cases. And Illinois is no exception.

But recent media scrutiny of cases in Cook County has raised the questions about that commitment to openness. Judges appear to have allowed some couples to file their divorce cases using only their initials, rather than their full names.

The Chicago Tribune recently investigated the matter and found a troubling tendency toward excessive privacy in certain cases. In many cases, it isn't only a matter of filing using initials rather than names. The Tribune found that, since 2000, there have been at least 89 cases where judges sealed court records.

The cases that are kept private typically involved high-profile people. Among the cases sealed, one case involved a Chicago alderman. Another concerned a mother of a former Chicago Bear's player. And, not surprisingly, many of the people who are shielded from public scrutiny are those of considerable wealth.

To be sure, there are times when shielding of identities by the courts in especially sensitive cases may be appropriate. This could be considered an exception to the general rule of openness that prevails in court proceedings.

The question, however, is whether that exception is being overused.

Please visit our page on high-asset divorce.

Source: "Divorce court weds power and privacy," Chicago Tribune, Cynthia Dizekes and Todd Lighty, 4-28-13

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