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Cook County often seals divorce cases for the rich and powerful

Though they are frequently settled out of court, divorces in Illinois are legal matters just like criminal prosecutions or personal injury litigation. Spouses must go through the court to have their settlement and child custody plans approved. If they cannot agree on these matters on their own, they can go to trial to have a judge make the decisions.

The court systems in the U.S. were designed to be transparent so that the public can observe possible corruption or incompetence in the courtooms that are supposed to provide them justice. But for many wealthy or powerful people in Cook County, the doors to the courtroom can be sealed, leaving their divorce proceedings hidden from the pbulic.

 

The names and other information about the parties in a court case are supposed to be publicly disclosed. The Illinois Supreme Court has allowed parties in a lawsuit to use a pseudonym if they have "good cause," but has yet to define that. However, the Chicago Tribune has learned that several political and business figures in the Chicagoland area have gotten judges to grant them anonymity during their divorce cases, something that is rarely granted to the general public.

They include aldermen, county commissioners, judges and the CEO of S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. Most of those whose divorce cases were partially or completely sealed said they were concerned about privacy and often invoked their children as justification.

But supporters of legal transparency say that Cook County may be creating a two-tiered divorce system -- one for ordinary people, and one for the elite.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Divorce court weds power and privacy," Cynthia Dizikes and Todd Lighty, April 28, 2013

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