This recent article by Stacy Barchenger in The Tennessean may be of interest to readers of this blog.
Attorney group seeks to delay divorce notifications
The Tennessee Bar Association is pushing to change when divorce filings become public in order to close what association leaders say could be a dangerous gap.
At issue: When someone files for divorce, the case becomes a public record. That sometimes happens before the responding husband or wife has been notified and served with a protective order, TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said.
Attorneys fear the timing of notification could create a risk of retribution, and through the TBA, will ask legislators to consider a law in the coming session to initially make filings secret.
“Respondents find out that their spouse has filed for divorce before safety plans can be put in place or before restraining orders can be served,” TBA President Jonathan Steen said in a statement. “We think a targeted solution to this problem is that information about the filing of divorce should be delayed until the respondent is served.”
Ramsaur said the association of legal professionals, which includes more than 13,000 members, will propose a law exempting divorce filings from public record “until served or 10 days, whichever occurs first.”
More than 29,700 divorces were filed in the fiscal year spanning 2012 and 2013, the most recent year for which data was available, according to the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts. Law requires a protective order when each case is filed, and if there is a threat of harm, people can also seek a more stringent restraining order, Ramsaur said.
In some areas, such as Memphis, Ramsaur said, there are newspapers that publish new filings the next day, making the risk of early notification a greater concern. He was not aware of any that do so in Nashville, but said gossip could also allow someone to find out about a filing before being served.
Ramsaur could not recall a specific example of violence, but said the TBA’s family law section honed in on this issue because of the possibility of harm.
Peter Macdonald, a member of the board of the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee and a retired Kentucky judge, said delaying public notification could be especially valuable if the divorcing couple has a history of domestic violence. Macdonald was not aware of the proposed law until contacted by The Tennessean.
“Divorce is pretty much a finality, the relationship is over,” he said. “That’s when most homicides occur.”
Deborah Fisher, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said though it was not yet on her radar, the proposed bill could warrant watching.
“Any legislation that seeks to change the public records law or the open meetings act, we would want to track and look at and see how it would impact the public’s right to know,” she said.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.