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Nevada Keeps the Family Court Open

Y Michael Yin, JD

In Nevada, the Supreme Court recently issued a ruling affirming the public’s constitutional right to access Family Court proceedings, overturning a rule change that had closed some hearings. The Court found that the rule violated the First Amendment right to access court proceedings.

In the ruling, the Court acknowledged the importance of protecting litigants’ privacy in family law matters but emphasized that privacy interests do not automatically override the public’s right to access court proceedings. However, some Justices dissented, arguing that Family Court cases should be treated differently from other civil proceedings and pointing to laws regarding confidentiality in adoption and parental rights termination cases.

The dissenting Justices emphasized the legislature’s role in determining openness in court proceedings and expressed concern about undermining laws protecting confidentiality in certain family law matters. Nonetheless, the majority opinion stressed the critical role of public access to courts and the need for judicious decision-making regarding closure, recognizing that closure might be warranted in specific instances but should not be blanket policy.

Some attorneys and organizations supported the challenge, arguing for transparency within the Family Court system. The ACLU of Nevada, emphasized the importance of open hearings for holding elected judges accountable and highlighted concerns about potential abuse within a system already facing challenges.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s decision underscores the balance between privacy rights and public access to judicial proceedings, affirming the principle that transparency serves as a cornerstone of accountability in the legal system.

Here in North Carolina, for the most part, family law proceedings are open to the public. This includes trials on custody, child support, alimony, domestic violence, and equitable distribution. That means that anyone can attend and hear some of the private matters that become evidence. Keep in mind that the records and recordings of these hearings are also typically public record as well.