Will my sensitive divorce information be kept private?

Q During our divorce, my wife and I had to exchange a lot of information, most of which was very personal or financial in nature. Now that the divorce is complete, what level of confidentiality can we expect from our lawyers to maintain the confidentiality of this information or to ensure that there is no unauthorized disclosure of information to other people or to a third party? I looked at the agreement I signed when I hired my attorney, but it’s not covered in the documentation. Can I request that the information I provided be returned or destroyed now that the divorce is final?

A. The two groups of attorneys you and your ex-wife used are required to ensure that the information you provide to them is kept confidential. This requirement exists even after your divorce is final and the case is closed.

How this is actually accomplished depends on the level of technology the law firms you hire use to store their files. There are no rules that specify exactly what a law firm must do to secure its files.

Some law firms maintain highly secure offices with electronically locked secure file rooms. Other law firms have moved to completely paperless offices, where they digitize all information and store it securely on cloud-based servers. Other law firms still keep paper files and simply lock their doors and store all of their clients’ information in unlocked filing cabinets (or storage boxes) for years or decades.

Now that your divorce is complete, you can ask your lawyer to return your file to you and destroy all of the information in it. The success of this request depends on how well your law firm manages its records and whether it is willing to do what you have requested. The law firm you have hired may be reluctant to send your entire case back to you without scanning it first, as they may want a record of your divorce in case problems arise in future years. They may also have no physical files to give you or destroy, as everything related to your case may be stored on cloud-based servers.

You probably can’t contact your ex-wife’s lawyers and ask them to destroy or return your file. They certainly won’t be interested in hearing from you. They would need to hear this request from your ex-wife, and even then, much like the law firm you hired, they might not agree to (or even be able to) turn over or destroy her entire file.

And even if your ex-wife’s attorneys send their entire case back to her, that means your entire divorce case will now be in your ex-wife’s hands. Sure, she probably already has a full case file from the procedure, but if she receives a box full of files, then she will have a duplicate set of files. Where will she store this box then?

The information in this column is intended to provide a general understanding of the law, not legal advice. Ronald Lipman of the Houston law firm Lipman & Associates is certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Email your questions to [email protected]

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