The law is supposed to protect children, all children. In California, however, the law protects some children more than others.
In custody battles and family law matters, children of married parents have less protection than those born out of wedlock.
Back in the day when it was not in vogue to have a child out of wedlock, our legislature decided that those children whom we used to call “illegitimate” warranted protection from public scorn. They enacted a statute which requires that any case filed in California between unmarried parents be sealed and kept confidential. But if your parents are married, all divorce and custody information is public record available to anyone.
This is not good news for any child, but it is particularly concerning for children of celebrities.
For the sake of Dylan and Hopper Jack, let’s hope that Sean Penn and Robin Wright Penn can quickly and amicably work out any dispute that they have regarding custody. If they cannot, be ready for the public disclosure of not only the parents’ problems, but personal information about the children.
Some of it is already in the public eye. The petition Sean Penn filed only a few weeks ago is already available on the Internet. Unfortunately, Dylan and Hopper Jack may soon find themselves in the same situation as 8-year-old Roan Bronstein, the son of Sharon Stone and Phil Bronstein. Information about Roan and his formerly married parents, who are engaged in a custody battle, has also been made public.
And of course, let’s hope the Penn children do not end up in the same situation as Ireland Baldwin, the daughter of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, whose custody battle was constantly in the media spotlight with their divorce court documents and information easily available to anyone.
Family law cases are ugly. People are vindictive. Sometimes the information contained in these files is true and other times it is false. Often it is exaggerated and proffered solely to try and gain an advantage over the other spouse or to sway the judge.
Although the court will decide whether the information is believable or should be acted on, that information remains in the court file whether it is true or not. And there it remains forever. It could even be accessed in the future by the children themselves.
The list of possible recipients of this information is practically unlimited. Imagine a future employer accessing the records, or someone posting it on the Internet, through Facebook and other social networks or on a gossip website. The damage to children by the public disclosure of this highly sensitive information is unquantifiable and long-lasting.
The sentiment behind the current archaic law was that illegitimate children should be protected from public scrutiny by keeping files sealed. No one would know that they may have been born out of wedlock, and no one would have access to the documents that would prove it.
This also means that no one would be able to pull the court file and find out the sordid details of their parent’s battles over their custody. These children were given special protection which was not given to children of married parents who find themselves in divorce court.
Times change, and so do public attitudes. Today, no one thinks twice about the fact that a child is born out of wedlock. It is an everyday occurrence.
The family dynamic has changed, but the law has not. It is time for the legislature to change this outdated law and give all children equal privacy protection. Family law matters are not ones which the public has an interest in, and we must err on the side of caution when it comes to children.
It is time for the legislature to act on this. Until that happens, for Dylan and Hopper Jack, because their parents were married, that means they are not entitled to any privacy under today’s law.