Attorney crusades to minimize online access to divorce information

Jessica Woll, managing partner of family law firm, Woll & Woll, P.C., a Michigan-based divorce and family law firm with a particular expertise in complex family law issues and child-centric divorce, began a crusade in 2014 to keep detailed and often messy divorce information involving minor children private. Anecdotal feedback tells Woll, who blogs and tweets @DivorceWisdom, it’s working.

“In most counties in Michigan, all court filings are available online, meaning all the dirty secrets of a divorcing couple can be made available for family, neighbors, co-workers and the general public for a small fee via an Internet search,” Woll said. “When I first began discussing this issue in family court, other divorce attorneys shared my concern and helped me spread the word.

Now, attorneys and judges regularly tell me they are requesting that certain divorce and custody information harmful to children not be published online.”

 The process of divorce begins with the filing of a complaint. Once filed, the case is assigned to a judge and the documents filed with the court become available to purchase online shortly thereafter. In working to reach a settlement in a divorce case, messy issues can arise, making the situation difficult for children and adults involved.

If a divorcing couple has nosy neighbors, for example, who want to know the status of the divorce case, they can pull up the divorce on the county court website. The case docket sheet shows everything filed in the case, including a request for supervised parenting time and any answers and/or counter claims that were filed. If the neighbors want even more details, they can order and pay for a copy of the motion and receive the document electronically. Woll says open access and sharing of such information is detrimental to children and families.

“Children of divorcing parents have enough to deal with in the separation of their parents; to have friends and neighbors gossiping behind their backs is harmful to the emotional well-being of a child,” Woll said. “

In 2015, Woll met with Sen. Marty Knollenberg to discuss the matter. While he was receptive, no action was taken. Until the law allowing access is changed, Woll offers three suggestions to protect a family while going through the divorce process.

If it is necessary to fight for a sensitive subject, such as supervised parenting time due to an addiction, keep pleadings as general as possible.When a couple and/or spouse know there is damaging information that could become part of the court file, try to get the other spouse to agree in advance to a protective order that only allows such information to be used in ways that best protect the family’s privacy.

When emotions are running high, which is typical during the breakdown of a marriage, couples should seek out a good divorce counselor to help them reach decisions with minimum court assistance.