A recent Butler County custody case demonstrates what can happen when a public profile and family law matters converge. In the case, U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell petitioned the court for a gag order to stop his wife and her attorney from publicly discussing two past temporary protection from abuse orders. He also petitioned the court to seal the records from their ongoing custody battle because of testimony in the case in which his wife alleges that domestic violence was ongoing throughout their relationship.
The judge presiding over the case, Judge James Arner, denied Mr. Parnell's request for a gag order and to seal records from the custody case. However, he did order both parents to refrain from disclosing any information about their children's health.
Standard For Sealing Custody Case Records
In Pennsylvania, Judges will not seal custody records simply because one or both parties are a public figure. The U.S. Constitution grants the public and the press a qualified First Amendment right of access to court proceedings and records. Accordingly, someone requesting sealment of those records must demonstrate that the potential for damage to the parties outweighs that constitutional right.
Process For Sealing Records
To prove that the potential for damage outweighs the public's constitutional right, the petitioner seeking sealment in a family court matter must:
- Make a specific request to the court detailing why the record should not be public
- Explain the harm that will occur if the public has access to that information
- Demonstrate that the potential for harm outweighs the public's qualified First Amendment right to court proceedings and records
Likelihood Of Success
As one can imagine, proving to the court that the potential for harm outweighs a constitutional right is a high bar. Therefore, a petitioner's likelihood of success depends on narrowly tailoring the request to the most harmful evidence. Pennsylvania courts are more likely to grant a request involving information that would harm the parties' children or the sealing of corporate records before it would consider a blanket request to seal records of an entire custody case record.
Concerned About Privacy in Your Custody Case?
If you face a custody battle and need someone who can fight for your privacy and protect your children, Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Attorney Lento cares passionately about children. He will work tirelessly to ensure your children are protected and that your family is safe no matter what. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a private and confidential consultation for your custody case today.