NASCAR CEO Tries to Keep Public Out of His Divorce
Brian France, CEO of NASCAR and one of the most powerful — and wealthiest — figures in sports, is asking a North Carolina court to seal the records of his divorce settlement to keep its details secret. The records of court proceedings are usually a matter of public record and can only be sealed in certain circumstances.
Ironically Brian France’s efforts have attracted the attention of the media, and we do know some details about the legal wrangling between the NASCAR boss and the woman he has now married and divorced twice — Megan France. The case shows that it can be difficult to keep even personal matters like divorce private once you avail yourself of the courthouse.
The Long and Winding (and Expensive) Road
Brian France and Megan France last divorced in 2008, according to news reports, and the fallout has not been pretty. In 2010, Megan went to court and accused her ex of harassing her, hiring private investigators to follow her and violating their settlement agreement concerning the care of their twin children.
Brian France is back in court in North Carolina now to enforce that agreement, which he says she has also broken by violating its promise of confidentiality. No wonder: the agreement reportedly included a pay-off of $9 million, $32,000 a month in alimony for 10 years and $10,000 a month for child support.
Open by Default, Closed by Showing ‘Harm’
“Family court proceedings are presumptively open to the public,” notes divorce lawyer Angela M. Wilson-Goodman, with the Wilson-Goodman Law Group in Gilbert, Ariz. “However, to promote amicable settlement of the issues, to protect the best interests of a minor child or to protect the parties from physical or emotional harm, the court may exclude the public.”
While celebrities often succeed in closing their divorces to the public, they — like everyone else — have to show that public disclosure of their information would harm them in some way, Wilson-Goodman explains. “The rule of thumb is that celebrity divorces are, in fact, open to the public until a court orders otherwise.”
It just may be a little easier for celebrities to show harm. “Because public perception is so important to celebrities, and in fact could have a big impact, both positive and negative, there is a heightened need to keep their personal information private,” says Wilson-Goodman.
Other than a nosy neighbor, no one else usually cares about the terms of a regular person’s divorce, including what you own and owe, when you see your children and why the marriage didn’t work out. Regular folks are thus not really at risk of having those personal things turned into Internet memes.
Long Shot in Carolina?
In Brian France’s case, he’s claiming his rights to privacy and to seek a legal remedy for the violation of the separation agreement would be harmed if his divorce was made a matter of public record. Those are legitimate claims, according to Wilson-Goodman.
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“He appears to be saying that since the settlement agreement had a confidentiality provision, having an unsealed file basically nullifies that provision,” she says.
As for the chances of his success, he may not be in a prime location — Charlotte, N.C., where his ex-wife lives.
“Different jurisdictions place more weight on this privacy issue than others, which is why not all celebrity divorces are sealed,” explains Wilson-Goodman. “In states where celebrities seem to be more prevalent — like California, New York and Florida — the courts are more open to the idea of sealing the record.”
If Brian France wins — his case being heard by an appeals court at this point — the public won’t be privy any longer to the private agreements and information contained in that settlement agreement, or to any of the future proceedings around the case.
“We can’t all be the CEO of NASCAR and there are plenty out there who would love to read all the juicy details, but is his right to avoid public scrutiny of his private life outweighed by the public’s right to know this information?” asks Wilson-Goodman. “No one is going to get hurt or humiliated or lose their livelihood if this information isn’t disclosed.”
Do you think Brian France’s divorce details should be part of the public record? Leave your opinion below.