In addition to the various changes to the criminal code that went into effect on July 1, 2014, there were a couple of other areas of law that also underwent significant changes. The confidentiality of paternity actions was one of those changes, and the revised law will go a long way towards decreasing both confusion and costs for those involved.
For many years, information about the filing of and orders associated with paternity actions were considered to be completely confidential to anyone other than the parties to the action and their lawyers. Since some issues in paternity actions, such as child custody, parenting time, and child support may need to be revisited several times over the years due to changes in circumstances, litigants and attorneys would often have a difficult time obtaining complete information about a paternity action. Even though attorneys are considered Officers of the Court, the confidentiality rules prevent non-Counsel of Record attorneys from being able to obtain information about what has or has not happened in previous hearings on a paternity matter. Even after filing an Appearance on behalf of a prospective client, it would often be necessary to make a special trip to the courthouse to view the file, as it would be difficult to obtain complete information from a clerk over the telephone.
The confidentiality of paternity actions also increased costs for parties to the proceedings who subsequently wanted to obtain information about the case. Since it was previously necessary for an attorney to formally Appear on the case before getting information from the file, the prospective client would have to pay the attorney to enter an appearance, then pay the attorney to travel to the courthouse to review the file, and then pay the attorney to provide an analysis of the information obtained from the court file. This is far more expensive than an initial consultation in other types of cases would be, where many attorneys will either offer free or very cheap initial consultations.
This also created a potential logistical nightmare if there was nothing that the attorney could do to help the client, as most counties require that a client be notified in writing ten days prior to an attorney withdrawing his Appearance. Finally, it created an inconsistency with other family law cases. Divorce records, even those relating to issues about child support and child custody, have been matters of public record for decades.
Paternity Actions Are Now Public Record
This issue was resolved as of July 1, 2014. Now, paternity actions in Indiana have joined almost all other court proceedings as matters of public record, and records of the action are capable of being viewed online by attorneys who are looking for information about the history of a case when speaking to prospective clients. By administrative order of the Indiana Supreme Court, the change in the rules of confidentiality will apply only to cases filed on or after July 1, 2014. Cases filed prior to that date will remain confidential, but non-Counsel of Record attorneys will be able to access these records without filing an Appearance by instead filing an Assurance of Confidentiality form with the clerk. Sensitive information, such as dates of birth and social security numbers, will remain confidential information not available to the public, which is, again, consistent with how divorce actions have been handled.
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