As a fundamental human right backed by the Constitution, federal and state laws, privacy is usually a delicate balance to maintain, especially in court matters. While the court has access to your files as a matter of law, it tries to limit how much information is made public. There are laws such as General Rule 31 of the Washington Court Rules that allow the public to access most court records, except such access is protected by a specific law or order.
However, there are still ways through which you can protect your information during litigation. Automatically – and fortunately – some records are kept out of public reach and kept sealed by the court. You don’t have to file a special motion to keep these records private. These include:

  • Adoptions
  • Confidential name changes
  • Juvenile non-offender records
  • Paternity
  • Mental illness commitment records
  • Alcohol and drug treatment commitment records
  • Court records sealed by a judge’s order

Additionally, your lawyer (or you) can redact private information in documents filed with the court. It is your responsibility, not the court’s, to remove the private information in the document to be filed. In any instance, you should endeavour to keep information like these out of public records including:

  • Social Security Numbers belonging to you or your family members
  • Financial Account Numbers identifying you or your family members
  • Driver License Numbers
  • Your telephone numbers
  • Dates of birth

How to Protect Your Privacy

While privacy is backed by national laws, it is your duty to be informed on how to efficiently make use of those laws in your own interests. The best way to protect information is to prevent court intrusion in the first place so that your documents are not filed for public records. The second-best way is to extensively discuss your options and rights with your lawyer. There are no DIY ways to sealing, unsealing or redacting private information.
There are several ways to protect yourself.
First, don’t use your employer’s or work’s computer, internet, and email to communicate with your lawyers. Information shared through these media is usually not private because it can be readily accessed by your employer or anybody else with access.
Second, keep social security numbers, financial details, including income tax returns, credit card statements, and documents used to apply for loans, away from public eyes. If you need to provide details of these numbers, the last four digits are enough. Your lawyer can help you redact these private details, which include your driver’s license number.
Finally, if you feel that information needs to be kept out of the public record, get the document sealed with your attorney’s help. To do this, a motion is filed before the judge. This official request gives you – and your attorney – the opportunity to convince the court that this private information is highly sensitive, and there are dangers in the public having this information.
If the court finds a part of a whole court file eligible to be sealed, then only that part will be kept from public records. In some cases, whole documents and files are sealed.

Chad Foster is a trusted family law and divorce lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.

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