Sealing A Custody Case In PA Isn’t As Easy As Most People Think

Posted by Joseph Lento | Dec 08, 2021 | 0 Comments

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, our Family Law Team can help. Our Family Law Team cares passionately about children. We 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.

About the Author

Joseph Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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