Eliot Spitzer, former Governor of New York and his wife Silda Wall Spitzer have officially filed for divorce, but in a move that might seem to some as unusual for a couple so much in the spotlight, the power couple’s divorce petition was filed as “Anonymous vs Anonymous”.
Why not use their real names? Filing for divorce with an “anonymous caption” is one way to keep certain details of the divorce out of the spotlight because filings become unsearchable through public records (when searching for the person’s real name). Filing for divorce anonymously is often done for enhanced privacy in divorce proceedings when divorcing couples are high profile individuals. It’s mainly used, however, to protect the identity of children in the event child custody is a hotly contested issue or there is some other concern that could potentially hurt the child by becoming public record.
In New Jersey, not just anyone can decide to file as anonymous or use a pseudonym or initials in court proceedings (another option). Generally, parties must demonstrate to the court a “compelling interest” why court records should have real names omitted. Besides public figures and child custody issues, victims of domestic violence are likewise granted the ability to keep their real name private. More information concerning domestic violence confidentiality can be found here.
Beyond having one’s real name kept off public documents related to the divorce or family law matter, further privacy protections include closed hearings and sealing of records. Again, this is decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis, with preference generally given to matters involving children.
Under NJ statute, the following rules apply when it comes to child-related matters:
- Hearings on Welfare or Status of a Child. Except as otherwise provided by rule or statute requiring full or partial in camera proceedings, the court, in its discretion, may on its own or party’s motion direct that any proceeding or severable part thereof involving the welfare or status of a child be conducted in private. In the child’s best interests, the court may further order that a child not be present at a hearing or trial unless the testimony, which may be taken privately in chambers or under such protective orders as the court may provide, is necessary for the determination of the matter. A verbatim record shall, however, be made of all in camera proceedings, including in-chamber testimony by or interrogation of a child.
- (b) Sealing of Records. The court, upon demonstration of good cause and notice to all interested parties, shall have the authority to order that a Family Part file, or any portion thereof, be sealed.