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Protecting your information

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created November 2020

When you submit forms and papers in your court case, a court clerk approves your papers and puts them in your case file. Case files are open to the public. Anyone can view a case file. The information inside that file is not private.

But some papers are not public. They do not go in your case file. Papers that are not public are:

  • your Financial Statement,
  • Guardian ad Litem reports are not public, and
  • your Plaintiff’s Confidential Information Form in 209A and 258E cases.

Sometimes, you need the court to keep other information or papers private so you can be safe.

You can ask the judge to "impound" your information. "Impounded" means certain information or papers are kept from the other side, the public, or court staff who do not need it.

The information you ask to keep private must be information that might harm you if the other side or the public can see it. This could be:

  • your home address, workplace address, or phone number.
  • parts of your case file, like financial documents and medical records. Or,
  • your entire court file, including all documents and information in the file.

The court can keep all this information from the public. It can also protect this information from court staff who do not need it to do their jobs. But the court can only keep some information from the other side in your case.

The court can keep the addresses where the other party might find you or your children, your phone number and email addresses. But the other side has the right to see all the other documents you give to the court. Even if the court impounds the documents so the public cannot see it, the other side can see documents like affidavits, financial documents and medical records.

How do I ask the court to protect my information?

To ask the judge to keep your information and documents private, file a Motion to Impound, an Affidavit to support your motion, and a Proposed Order.

You must tell the judge why you need to keep the information private. Your reasons to keep any information private must be more than simply to protect your privacy. The reasons must show that you need the court to keep the information private so nobody can use it to harm you.

Some reasons you may need to keep information private are:

  1. To be safe. You will be in danger if someone else finds out where you live or work from the file.
  2. Information is too sensitive: The information in the file is too sensitive to be public. Sensitive information you may need to impound could be your medical history, your mental health history or sexual abuse. Also, you may need to keep sensitive information about your child private. In some cases, you can have your entire file impounded.
  3. Domestic violence shelter. If you live in a domestic violence shelter, never reveal your physical address on public court forms.

When do I file my Motion to Impound?

The court has a rule for impounding information. The rule says you must file your motion to impound before you give the court any of the information you need to keep private.

If you need the court to impound any information in your complaint, like your address, phone number and email, file the Motion to Impound with your complaint.

Do not write the information that you want to keep private, like your address or phone number, in the complaint itself. Leave the spaces that ask for this information blank.

After you file the Motion there will be a hearing. You must tell a judge, in-person, the reasons you need to impound:

  • information that would let the other party find you,
  • sensitive information,
  • or both.

If the judge allows your motion to impound:

  • the court will ask for your contact information. They will keep this impounded information private, and
  • you can file the rest of the papers in your case, after you know what the court will keep from the public.
    • For example, in a custody case, you may have medical records and other information about you, your child or the other side that you need to keep private. Wait for the judge’s decision before you file anything if you need to keep it private.

If the judge impounds any information that would let the other side find you, do not include that information on any documents you file.

This means if a judge impounds your address, do not write your address on any documents you file.

If you file evidence that has your address on it “black it out” carefully so no one can read it.

If the judge does not allow the information to be kept private you will have to put this information on the complaint.

Note

You can ask the court to impound information at any point in your case. But if you ask the court to impound it after you file:

  • the other side in your case may have been able to see information about where to find you and
  • the public could have seen other information in your case record.

The court will have a hearing on your Motion to Impound

The court will have one or 2 hearings on your Motion to Impound.

The 1st hearing may take place on the same day you file the motion, before the other side knows you filed it. The court calls this an "ex-parte hearing."

If you get a hearing on the same day and the other person is not there, the court schedules a 2nd hearing about 10 days later. At the 2nd hearing the person on the other side of your case gets a chance to object to your motion, and explain why the court should not impound information.

Note

All hearings on family matters and restraining orders are open to the public and recorded. This includes hearings on Motions to Impound. In some extraordinary circumstances you can ask the judge to “close the courtroom” for the Motion to Impound Hearing – then, only people who are a part of your case can be in the courtroom.

Asking the court to impound in 209A Restraining Order or a 258 Harassment Protection Order cases

Courts use a special form for impounding information in 209A Restraining Order or a 258 Harassment Protection Order cases. See Protecting my Information in a 209A or 258E case.

Important

If you need to use a completely different address, you may need the Address Confidentiality Program.

Forms and Samples

Motion to keep addresses private from the other party in your case

Blank Fillable Motion to Impound Address from Other Party in Probate and Family Court, Proposed Order, and Affidavit.

Sample Motion to Impound New Address In this sample the wife has moved to a new address that her husband does not know. She files a Motion to Impound her address in her divorce case.

Motion to keep sensitive information from the public

Blank Fillable Motion to Impound Documents and Information from Public and Court Staff

Sample Motion to Impound Sensitive Information - Entire Case File In this sample the case involves the sexual abuse of a minor child. One parent filed a Motion to Impound the Entire File because it would be harmful to the child if any of the documents were available to the public.

Sample Motion to Impound Sensitive Information - Individual documents In this sample, a mother files a Motion to Impound because she wants to keep documents about their health history out of the public file.

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