How Do I Access Family Court Records?

Renee Booker

In many jurisdictions, there is a court specifically designated to handle family law matters. Common examples of legal matters handled in a family court include divorce, paternity, and child support. Copies of family court records may be needed for a variety of reasons. In most cases, family court records are considered public record and may be easily accessed online, in person, or through the mail.

You may need to pay a fee to get copies of family court records.
You may need to pay a fee to get copies of family court records.

Family courts are specialized courts that are formed in order to handle all types of cases that affect the family, such as divorce, custody, and child support, as well as the establishment of paternity. As many family law matters have a direct effect on children, many court systems have designated a special court to hear sensitive legal issues that involve children. Although the family law court may be a special court, it is still part of the overall legal system. As such, family court records may usually be accessed in the same manner that other civil case records are obtained.

Matters heard in family court often have a meaningful impact on children.
Matters heard in family court often have a meaningful impact on children.

Many court systems have a fairly extensive internet presence. The easiest way to access family court records is to locate them through the court's website, if possible. Anyone searching for family court records should perform an internet search for the court system where the family court is located. Once the website is located, search for the clerk of court's office and, once there, look for an option to "search records" or something similar. In many cases, this will provide the required records, although there may be a fee required in order to search or print the records.

If the court system does not provide an option to search the records online, then family court records should be available by mail or in person. Again, a fee may be required and the court may have specific procedures for requesting records, making a telephone call a good place to start. As a rule, when requesting the records by mail, the more information that can be provided, the more likely the clerk's office will be able to locate the correct records.

Sometimes, certified copies of family court records are needed. A certified copy is a copy that bears the seal and signature of the clerk of court attesting to the document's authenticity. Divorce decrees, custody orders, and judgments of paternity are common examples of family court records that often need to be certified. A certified copy cannot be printed off of the internet, although one may be able to be ordered. There is generally a fee for obtaining a certified copy.

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