For Whose Eyes Only?

As part of your family law proceeding, certain financial documents are required to be filed with the Court.  In divorce matters, these documents include the Case Information Statement, which contains information regarding a party’s income including Federal and State Income Tax Returns, and assets and liabilities for the determination of alimony, child support and equitable distribution.  In non-divorce matters, these documents include a Financial Summary Support Statement, which contains information regarding a party’s income including Federal and State Income Tax Returns for the determination of child support and other relevant issues.

Parties are understandably concerned regarding their ability to maintain these documents as confidential and not accessible for public access through tools such as the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).  New Jersey Court Rule 1:38-3 governs public access to court records and administrative records.  Pursuant to subsection (d)  Records of Family Part Proceedings, those documents excluded include, but are not limited to, Case Information Statements, Financial Statements in Summary Support Actions and all attachments, and Settlement Agreements incorporated into Judgments or Court Orders. 

It is also common for parties to undergo medical, psychological, and substance abuse evaluations related to child custody, child support, or parenting time determinations.  Parties, or the Court, may also retain mental health experts to conduct Best Interest Evaluations regarding child custody and parenting time.  These reports are also excluded from public access.

The release of the above reports is accompanied by a Protective Order entered by the Court.  The Administrative Office of the Courts recently addressed the issue concerning the language to be included in Protective Orders to ensure that the contents of these reports remain confidential.  The Court directive provides a standard Protective Order to be used in all Family Law Dockets when the Court authorizes the release of records and concludes these records should not be disclosed to others.  The standard Protective Order relates to records involving the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P), Juvenile Court records, and records obtained in contested custody, parenting time and visitation matters filed under the dissolution and non-dissolution dockets.  This includes the results of custody investigations and expert evaluations resulting from the medical, mental health, social or economic examinations of any party.

The terms of the standard Protective Order provide that the documents cannot be used in any other manner without the express written permission of the Court, and unauthorized release may subject a party to sanctions at the Court’s discretion.  In addition, when the documents are no longer required, they shall be destroyed or returned to the originating agency. 

If you have questions regarding whose eyes will have access to documents you deem confidential, contact the Family Law Team at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf who will discuss this issue in greater detail and provide you with an explanation of the relevant Court Rules.