Confidentiality Of Documents in the Collaborative Process
Our clients often choose the collaborative process to resolve their divorce issues because they value the confidentiality and privacy that the process promises. However, the practical considerations to ensure that the client’s agreement and financial documents are kept confidential can be difficult. A court’s local rules or the rules of judicial administration do not necessarily provide a process to ensure that these records are kept private. Luckily, because our local judiciary has embraced the collaborative process, the venue in which I practice has provided a way to ensure that the promises we make regarding confidentiality during the collaborative process are reality when it comes time to involve the court.
Specifically, divorcing parties can move to have their marital settlement agreement and certain accompanying documents deemed confidential and “filed under seal,” if they provide “good cause.” As a result, I have concluded several collaborative cases in which we successfully kept the clients’ documents confidential and filed them “under seal,” thus keeping my clients happy and rendering them walking advertisements for the collaborative process.
What has proven to be surprising, and somewhat disheartening, is that, although the process by which documents are deemed confidential in my jurisdiction is contained in the state rules of judicial administration, I have been more successful in having documents deemed confidential in one county than in other nearby counties. After discussion with other collaborative professionals, I have concluded that some counties are well-versed in the collaborative process and others are not or that some counties simply embrace the process more than others.
As a result, when discussing my client’s interests at the beginning of their collaborative case, I always discuss whether the confidentiality of any finances or settlement is an interest of either spouse. If confidentiality is an interest, I suggest that, when it comes time for the court to become involved, we, if possible, file in the county in which I have been more successful in having the documents filed under seal.
As lawyers, we must be knowledgeable about how local trends and practices may affect our clients and their matters. As collaborative professionals, we must be also be knowledgeable about these local trends and practices to ensure that we can meet the goals set by our clients and fulfill the promises made at the beginning of the collaborative process. Investigate the local rules, practices, and administrative orders in your jurisdiction to become aware of the procedures the court has in place regarding confidentiality if court involvement becomes necessary. Consult with other local collaborative professionals to determine the ways in which they have been successful having documents deemed confidential or the venue in which you will likely have more success with documents being deemed confidential.
Hopefully, as collaboration becomes better well-known and more widely used, the court, through local rules and procedures, will work hand-in-hand with collaborative professionals to ensure that the client’s goal of confidentiality, or any other, for that matter, is fulfilled. However, until that occurs, our best allies are each other.
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About this week’s author: Robyn Bonivich
Robyn A. Bonivich is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. While in law school, Robyn was a member of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity and a member of the Pitt Law Women’s Association. In law school Robyn was a certified legal intern with the City of Houston, Texas. She was also a participant in the low income tax payer clinic at the University of Pittsburgh and was able to practice law under the supervision of a practicing attorney. She also held a position as a law clerk with a Tampa Bay area family law firm. Throughout law school Robyn volunteered as a tutor for at risk youth and was an active volunteer with a local food bank and the local Meals on Wheels program. Prior to law school, Robyn graduated from the University of South Florida in Tampa, majoring in history. She is an alumna of Chi Omega sorority and as an active member she served on the chapter’s executive board as the secretary. During her time at USF, Robyn was also a member of the Pre Law Society and Students in Free Enterprise (S.I.F.E.).
After graduating from law school Robyn spent time as an associate attorney in two well known family law firms in the Tampa Bay area. At those firms, Robyn’s concentration was on high conflict divorce and mediation. Robyn has extensive family law experience and has handled hundreds of family law cases dealing with dissolution of marriage, alimony, child support, child custody, petitions for relocation, post-judgment modification of final judgments and orders, motions for contempt/enforcement of orders and/or final judgments, temporary/concurrent custody orders, and domestic violence injunctions.
Robyn is an active member of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, both the Young Lawyers Division and the Family Law Section. Robyn is the current Co-Chair of the Young Lawyers Division’s Pro Bono Committee and is responsible for organizing, staffing, and supervising the monthly Family Law Forms Clinic. The Clinic helps low income individuals fill out family law forms. Robyn has also received a Pro Bono Service Award from the Hillsborough County Bar Association in both 2015 and 2016. Robyn has been a member of the Florida Bar Association since 2012 and the Georgia Bar Association since 2014.