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Where To Find Family Court Records In California?

In California, family court records are maintained and provided by the family law division of the Superior Court. The superior court is the trial court in the state, and there is one in each of the 58 counties. Hence, interested persons may find family court records at the local courthouse where the case was heard.

The family court system in California handles cases of divorce, separation, custody agreements and meditation, domestic violence, restraining orders, elder abuse, paternity measures, adoption, spousal, family, and child support.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

What Is Family Law In California?

Family law refers to statutes governing domestic relationships as it regards custody and parenting, child support, paternity, child abuse, guardianship, juvenile delinquency, adoption, and emancipation. In California, the family law has some 20 divisions, which are further split down into parts, chapters, articles, and sections. These divisions deal with a specific family life matter, including:

Division 3. Marriage [300 - 536]

Division 4. Rights and obligations during marriage [700 - 1620]

Division 5. Conciliation proceedings [1800 - 1852]

Division 6. Nullity, dissolution, and legal separation [2000 - 2452]

Division 7. Division of property [2500 - 2660]

Division 8. Custody of children [3000 - 3465]

Division 9. Support [3500 - 5700.905]

Division 10. Prevention of domestic violence [6200 - 6460]

Division 11. Minors [6500 - 7143]

Division 12. Parent and child relationship [7500 - 7961]

Division 13. Adoption [8500 - 9340]

Division 14. Family law facilitator act [10000 - 10015]

Division 17. Support services [17000 - 17804]

What Are Family Court Cases And Records In California?

In California, family court cases are disputes that have to do with domestic relations, such as divorce, child custody arrangements, or adoption. Documentations of court processes to determine these disputes are part of family court records. These records include all case files, testimonies, orders, final judgments, and court transcripts generated throughout the court process. Cases handled under the California family court system fall into six categories:

  • Divorce/Separation/Annulment: the dissolution of marriage cases, separation of a couple, or simply annulment of a marriage
  • Paternity: the legal relationship between a child and biological parent, or the rights and obligations of a parent to an adopted a child
  • Child Custody: the parental rights or guardianship of a child
  • Child Support: or child maintenance, is ongoing payments made from a parent to a child following the dissolution of a marriage involving children
  • Domestic violence: abuse in domestic relationships such as a marriage or a cohabitation
  • Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse: this can be a single act or an ongoing act of abuse towards an older person or an adult that is dependent on another

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

Are Family Court Cases Public Records In California?

California Family Court Records are considered public records under the state’s Public Records Act, hence members of the public can view or copy the case information. However, specific information or an entire record may be sealed from public access by court order or restricted by the operation of law.

Generally, juvenile records and other records that may be detrimental to the image of a child are considered confidential and not open to the public. Sensitive personal financial information, drug test results, and psychological evaluation results are other grounds that may warrant the sealing of a family court record. By law, cases settled under the Uniform Parentage Act are classified as confidential. Therefore, records of these parentage cases are only accessible to parties involved and their attorneys.

How Do I Find Family Court Records In California?

Interested persons may obtain copies of California family court records in person, by mail, or online (for courthouses providing web record search). Requesting these records in person requires completing a request form and paying for the copies. Generally, each page is copied at 50 cents, and there is an additional fee to certify the document. Call the local courthouse prior to a visit to determine the availability of the record at the Clerk’s Office.

For mail-in requests, complete the request form or indicate the request in writing and send it to the Family Law Division Clerk’s Office in the county where the case was finalized. The mail must include a check or money order for the required fee, a copy of a valid ID, and a self-addressed stamped appropriate size envelope.

Some courts in California, like the Orange County court, allow the public to order and pay for family court records online. For case files not available on the online case index, the requestor may have to visit the courthouse to complete the order. Requests where the person cannot determine the exact date of record may require a search of available case indexes. Such searches cost $15 each if it takes longer than 10 minutes to locate the record.

Note, to access confidential family court records like paternity and sealed cases; the interested person must obtain a court order and present a valid photo ID.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Do I Find Family Court Records Online?

A statewide California Family Court record access portal does not exist. However, some counties offer self-service computer terminals at the courthouse locations for the public to access court records, including family case information. Similarly, the public may use the online court records search tool available on some courthouses’ websites to find family case information.

Use the Find Your Court page on the California Court homepage to locate a courthouse’s website and check if it offers an electronic court record search. However, these online databases provide limited case information. Therefore, requestors must visit the courthouse where a family case was finalized to obtain a complete copy of the record.

What Is California Custody Law?

California custody law refers to the sharing of parenting responsibilities. Custody law falls under California Family Code § 3011 and involves child custody agreements and judgments made in court. In the state, either parent can have custody of the child or share custody. Nonetheless, the presiding judge makes the final decision regarding child custody and visitation in divorce cases. Still, this decision is often based on agreements made between the two parents after mediation.

Custody agreements in family court records are accessible by the public, although there are exceptions. If the child’s parents are unmarried, the parties can have private custody agreements; hence, the records are private and not accessible to the public. If the parents of the child are married but separated, it is also possible to make custody agreements private. Where such court record falls under the Privacy Law, then by default, the document will be sealed. Otherwise, a party to the custody case may have to petition the court to seal the record under a tenable reason.

Where a parent gains sole custody of a child, this parent can decide on education, child care, religious activities, mental health needs, physical health needs, sports, vacations, travel, and residence. If one parent has sole custody, it is legally allowed to move away from the other parents unless the other parent proves in court that this could harm the child. If a parent wants to keep away the other parent from their child, it is necessary to make a case to the court and obtain a Restraining Order.

How To Find Family Court Lawyers In California?

Under its self-help section, the California Courts website offers resources to help the public find a suitable attorney as the case requires. Persons with legal family disputes may use these resources to locate a family court lawyer in their cities. One of these resources includes a link to the Lawyer Referral Service of the State Bar of California. Alternatively, use the Attorney Search engine on the State Bar website to locate a specific lawyer. Inclusion of the advance search filters enables a smart query to find a family lawyer and other specialized attorneys. For further inquiries about the Lawyer Referral Service works, call (866)–442–2529 or (415)–538–2250, if calling from outside California.

Californians with low or moderate incomes may find less expensive help with legal aid organizations. Many of these organizations cover custody and family law issues. California Bar also lists a number of these legal aid services managed by licensed attorneys on its website. Alternatively, Californians may find legal help for family disputes with pro bono lawyers in their county of residence.

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