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Will my court documents from my divorce be public domain?

There has been recent controversy regarding public access to the legal documents from the divorce of the incoming Governor-General. These news stories have made many Canadians wonder about the privacy of their own court documents from family law proceedings. Those going through a divorce in Alberta should know how provincial law treats public access to court files.

While many people consider divorce to be a private affair, the courts in all provinces except Quebec keep documents pertaining to civil and family cases open to the public. This means that everything presented as evidence in an Alberta divorce is available to the public. This is done to keep judges accountable for their decisions, to educate society and to sometimes inform law reform.

Under the Divorce Act, conduct of a spouse is not considered relevant in a dissolution of marriage. However, many spouses still submit proof of affairs and other very personal documents or images as evidence. Personal issues relating to children are also often discussed in such litigation, raising questions about a child's right to privacy. Personal addresses, values of private corporations and income are also discussed in property division hearings.

Those going through a divorce in Alberta have a few options in these cases. They can ask to be referred to by their initials rather than full names in documents. They can also sanitize or remove identifying information about children. In order for any such privacy protection to be granted, one of the parties must request it prior to the beginning of trial. Those who wish to understand their options to seek privacy during an Alberta divorce can seek guidance from a family lawyer.

Source: Financial Post, "Expect your divorce's dirty laundry to be aired in public, unless you live in Quebec", Laurie Pawlitza, Sept. 19, 2017

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