The news about Jeff Bezos spread faster than wildfire. Every major news outlet and even commentary by the president simultaneously filled the airwaves. Divorce battle speculation was only the beginning. A free-for-all into the intimate details of Jeff and Mackenzie Bezos’ personal lives has dominated the attention of the country.
Celebrities aren’t the only ones who face issues maintaining privacy during a divorce or separation. Everyday people feel the pressure of a public divorce: posts on social media, gossip and rumors about the latest happening in the divorce case. The public nature of divorce has resulted in a complete lack of privacy for those most closely involved, the spouses and their children.
In Arizona, like all states, divorce proceedings are a part of the public record. This means that even if someone does not announce their divorce, the information is readily available, including the details of any court filing through a simple request from the court. In many cases, celebrities will make a public announcement, as the Bezos did, primarily to beat anyone else to the punch and to maintain control over what should be a private matter.
Most spouses do not consider the public nature of divorce prior to moving forward. This is understandable. Complicated feelings of failure, loss, grief, anger, and even guilt consume the lives of people going through divorce. Parents, who have created a family together attempt to focus on their children who are also directly impacted by the divorce transition. The higher the conflict in divorce, the more public news tends to spread, and both of these realities hurt children. In fact, studies show that college aged students — as is the case with two of our four of the Bezos children — are affected emotionally to the same degree as very young children due to the transitions in their own lives and uncertainty about sharing time with each parent at a new moment when they have complete control over the outcome. Regardless of if their children are younger, as the Bezos family are, or adult children with their own lives and families, a divorce can be emotionally and physically difficult for all.
When spouses litigate their divorce, they are forced to make a very private matter public. . In most y states, spouses have their basic information shared on the court website, which can be easily accessed. . Ultimately, almost any and all documents they file with the court can be accessed, including their final Divorce Decree. What is said in courtrooms is also recorded, and can be used against the other in perpetuity. Why should the private lives of parents and families — family matters — be at the fingertips of inquiring minds?
Divorce mediators believe in the confidentiality of divorce and support privacy for families. Under Arizona law, and similar law that exists in most every state, spouses who use divorce mediation are able to maintain confidentiality and privacy. In most cases, mediation is protected under the law, meaning anything that is communicated in the mediation room and related to the process is private and confidential. A mediator cannot be subpoenaed or asked to speak about the discussions that took place in a mediation meeting. Spouses cannot introduce evidence of what was said during mediation either. The fact is that since mediation success rates are so high, there would rarely be a need to do so anyway.
Mediation meetings are traditionally held in a private office space, where staff are required to maintain complete confidentiality– even of our client’s names. In many cases, a mediator may seek to take additional steps to protect their clients’ privacy by limiting information included in public court documents, limiting the type and amount of information and documents filed with the court overall, as well as requesting confidentiality of documents filed.
We hope the Bezos’ will choose divorce mediation in order to reduce public access to their divorce. Like any other married couple, they too are grappling with one of the most difficult and emotionally challenging times in their lives. They are learning to live apart and begin healthy co-parenting for the sake of their children. They are likely beginning to accept the complete reorganization of their family. To the public, they may be just another news story — a source of entertainment. But, we should not forget the pain that a lack of privacy causes. Spouses considering divorce should consider that what happens in divorce may best be conducted in a private process.