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Privacy and Family Law

Tonight's post on whether you have any privacy in family law, was written by our Savannah Family Law Attorney, David Purvis.

As my Savannah Law School students are learning this semester, when a family is intact, there are tremendous privacy rights for that family. What activities the children are involved in, whether it's time to buy braces for a child, what debts are paid and when, how income is spent, what to do with tax refunds are all decisions left to the family unit to decide for themselves. In fact, traditionally courts have refused to hear disputes between members of intact families regarding these issues. A family can decide to live frugally, only spending money on the basic necessities, and as long as those basic needs are met, the family is free (and private) to do what it pleases.

This all drastically gets turned upside when spouses file for divorce. All of a sudden, things that were once very private decisions between the two of them are no longer so private. Financial affidavits are required to be filed with the court, outlining income, assets, and average monthly expenses. If the parties cannot agree on how decisions regarding the children should be made, the Court can and will dictate which parent gets to make those decisions and who and how the expenses related to those decisions are paid.

A parent may think that all the child needs is his or her basic needs be met; yet during the divorce process, Georgia laws will dictate an amount to be paid in child support by one parent to the other. Guess what? The basic needs of the child are not how that child support amount is determined. No longer do parents have total say in how much money is spent on children - the State of Georgia will make that decision for them.

One of the first hurdles I have to help many new clients understand is that this oversight, this dictatorship, becomes the way of the world for them during the divorce. Discovery responses are required - the client is asked about every financial document they've ever had, asked to expound upon very intimate and once private details of their life, and is suddenly faced with the reality that for the next "how much time it takes to resolve this case" period of time or potentially even permanently, considering modifications, these will no longer be private details. For most clients, this is the first time that they have had to reveal this information to anyone other than their spouse and maybe the I.R.S.

This encroachment into very private aspects of a family's life is an unfortunate necessity of a family law case. If a judge is ultimately going to be asked to make decisions regarding the division of assets and debts and the award of alimony and child support, the judge has to have full and complete information with which to do so, even though it means that aspects once private to the family are no longer so private.

You want privacy? Stay in your locked room.  You want a divorce? Be prepared for show and tell.

Be forewarned.

David Purvis

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