In a recent celebrity divorce splashed across the headlines, Christie Brinkley fought for her divorce proceedings to be made public, against the wishes of her soon-to-be ex-husband and her childrens’ counsel. Why would anyone want their dirty laundry aired out across national headlines? Maybe its anger, revenge, or simply a feeling of having nothing to hide, but at Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, we considered how a similar case in California would be treated.
The California version of the Brinkley case would look very different from the New York case. California is a no-fault divorce state whereas New York recognizes divorces based on fault-based criteria. Because of the need to find fault to allow the granting of a divorce in New York, Brinkley’s divorce case was plagued with accusations of Peter Cook’s infidelity, obsession with internet porn, and secret supplying of a mistress with thousands of dollars. In addition, the child custody evaluator’s report was widely quoted by both attorneys in the media.
In California, none of these topics would be admissible unless they happened right in front of the children. The legislature in California has declared that public policy of the state is to ensure that each child’s health, safety, and welfare be the court’s primary concern. Specifically, in Marriage of Wellman, 104 CA3d 992, 164 CR 148, the court held that a Party’s sexual conduct is not relevant in awarding custody unless there is compelling evidence that it has a significant bearing on the child’s welfare. Additionally, the 730 evaluator is to file his written confidential report with the court which must be served on the parties or their attorneys. It is so strictly protected, it cannot be photocopied.
It seems that celebrities in California struggle for the very privacy Brinkley fought off during her divorce. Judges in California have been requested to seal alimony agreements, child custody and support agreements and close court rooms. Most recently, Britney Spears, a regular in the media spotlight, requested her alimony agreement and child custody agreement sealed, and all hearings were held in a closed courtroom.