Massachusetts Family Court Records
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What are Massachusetts Family Court Records?
Massachusetts family court records are records pertaining to family court proceedings within the jurisdiction of the state. These records are primarily generated and maintained by the state’s judicial system, and they include details of all family-related cases and court orders, motions and decrees made in the course of a proceeding. As per Massachusetts state law, interested persons may access these records from their respective custodians provided the requestor meets any indicated eligibility requirements of the state.
What Cases are Heard by Massachusetts Family Courts?
Massachusetts family courts are legal arms of the state probate courts, and they operate as civil courts of limited jurisdiction which attend to cases pertaining to family and probate matters. Summarily, the Probate and Family Court Department of the states judicial system has jurisdiction over cases such as:
- Divorce and related concerns such as child custody, alimony, child support and termination of parental rights
- Domestic physical and mental abuse
- Guardianship, minor emancipation, and related matters.
- Wills and trust as it pertains to the family
- Most family courts also hear matters relating to conservatorships and unique familial relationships.
Massachusetts judicial system comprises a three-level court system within which family courts are a division under the state trial courts. Thus, family court records are generated and maintained by court administrators of the various trial courts across the state. Where appeals are made to higher courts such as the state appeals court or the Supreme Judicial court, these records are maintained by the administrative division of the appellate court.
What is Included in Massachusetts Family Court Records?
The information contained in Massachusetts family court records generally varies depending on the case and the record custodian. However, court records are designed to provide relevant case information and as such feature details of the case as well as the personal information of the parties involved, details of the court proceedings including evidence filed, trial transcripts and motion arguments.
Depending on the case, the court record may also include financial agreements relating to divorce, alimony and child support as well as details and conditions of visitation and custody agreements, restraining orders and related concerns. Most of this information can be obtained by querying the office of the clerk of courts in the courthouse where the case was filed.
Are Family Court Records Public in Massachusetts?
Pursuant to Massachusetts state laws on the management and dissemination of judicial records, family court records are generated and maintained by designated custodians. Family court record custodians are required to fulfill requests for access to these records provided they are neither confidential nor sealed by a court order. However, in the event that confidential information is requested, the requestor must be authorized by a court order or have related legal authorities to access the desired information. Confidential court case information includes:
- The personal information of a juvenile, minor and children in the contest
- The personal and contact information of victims of abuse
- Records maintained and/or presented by the department of child services
- Social security information and generally financial details presented by parties in the case.
- Details of marital property or any official inventories
- The mental/psychological evaluation results of selected persons.
Individuals who request any of the above-stated information must be either authorized by a court order or be the subject of, or attorney to the subject(s) of the record of interest in order to obtain the information. As such, eligible persons will not have access to this information using remotely accessible online resources, but may only obtain them by querying the custodian in person. In the state of Massachusetts requests for confidential, sealed or protected information must also be made directly to the record custodian.
How Do I Get Family Court Records in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts family court records can be accessed by interested members of the public who query the record custodian. Access to most records requires that the requesting party make an oral or written request to the custodian of the record. However, records that can be accessed electronically may be viewed without obtaining any permission. Generally, interested members of the public may view and/or obtain copies of Massachusetts criminal court records by:
- Using state-managed public-access online resources
- Making in-person queries to the record custodian
- Sending mail-in requests to the appropriate courthouse
- Using third-party aggregation sites
How to Obtain Massachusetts Family Court Records Online
The Massachusetts judicial system provides public access to MA Trial Court Docket and the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) and Appeal Court Docket. These resources can be used to search the statewide database of court records for family court case information. This is in addition to the various online resources provided by different courts that provide court case information limited to their individual jurisdiction.
To use either of the aforementioned docket tools, interested persons may access the resource online or visit any of the state’s designated courthouses and self-serve using public terminals available.
To access the dockets online, the user must visit www.masscourts.org and furnish the docket search tool with relevant information regarding the family court case. This includes court department and division where the case was heard as well as the full name of the plaintiff/defendant and the case and docket number of the record. Searches generally provide a list of results from which the user must select the record of interest by clicking on the attached hyperlink. Once confirmed, the requesting party may proceed to print out the record at no cost.
Alternatively, interested persons may visit designated state courthouses that have public-access terminals. Most courthouse public computers run the mass eAccess application with which interested persons can self-serve by conducting online searches. Users are required to provide relevant information for which the courts can be searched. This includes the name of the offender/plaintiff, case type and/or case file number. All online searches provide only basic case information but exclude confidential or sealed records.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Family Court Records can include marriage records and Massachusetts divorce records. These records contain personal information of those involved and their maintenance is critical should anyone involved wish to make changes. Because of this both marriage and divorce records can be considered more difficult to locate and obtain than other public records, and may not be available through government sources or third party public record websites.
How to Make In-Person Requests for Massachusetts Family Court Records
An alternative to using the state’s online resources Massachusetts family court records can be obtained by querying the office of the record custodian in person. In-person queries are especially recommended for persons interested in obtaining full case information as some restrictions are placed on the records accessible electronically.
To request a family court record in person, the requestor must first locate the trial court in which the case was filed/heard. The probate and family division of the trial court in each judicial district is tasked with the generation and maintenance of family court records. However, if a case has been appealed at any of the higher courts in the state, its record will likely be maintained by the state appellate court or the SJC which serves as the state’s court of last resort.
- Preparing the required information
Once the location of the record is confirmed, the requesting party is advised to consult the custodian regarding the requirements of retrieving court records in that jurisdiction. As per Massachusetts state laws, persons seeking access to family court records must provide the information required to facilitate record searches. The information required typically includes the full name of the parties involved as well as the case file number of the record (if known), and the place and date on which the suit as filed.
Typically, some jurisdictions have additional requirements for accessing court records. The requirements often vary depending on the status of the case as well as the confidentiality of the record and the sensitivity of the information contained in the record. Thus, alongside providing information to facilitate record search, the requesting party may also be required to present a court subpoena to prove their legal authority to access the record, along with a government-issued photo ID or any alternative identifying documents.
- Making in-person requests
To retrieve a court record, the requestor may also be required to schedule an appointment with the record custodian. Most requests require that the requestor complete a request form and provide their personal information as well as details of the record of interest. If the required document is a public record, the requestor may be allowed to self-serve using the court’s public terminals otherwise, record searches will be conducted by court staff, and the requestor will be charged a nominal fee to cover the search and copy costs.
How to Access Massachusetts Family Court Records Via Mail
Interested members of the public may also obtain Massachusett family records by requesting via mail. This requires preparing a written request stating the type of document required as well as details of the suit including the full names of the parties involved in the case number of the record as well as the date and place where the case was filed. Along with the written request, the requestor is required to enclose any appropriate fees, a copy of a government-issued photo-ID and a self-addressed envelope. In some cases, requestors are provided with official record request forms by the record custodian, these can be substituted for written requests. However, given the unique requirements of accessing civil court records in most jurisdictions, requesters are advised to contact the court custodian before preparing a request.
Specialized Family Court Records
In addition to maintaining and disseminating family court records, Massachusetts probate and family courts also generate and manage records of decrees which provide legal validation for a variety of family-related matters including adoption, child custody, divorce, and civil protection. These records are generally useful for legal purposes.
How to Obtain Massachusetts Adoption Records
All paperwork pertaining to adoption processes are managed by the Probate and Family Court division of the Massachusetts judicial system. Adoption paperwork is generally not accessible by members of the public except ruled otherwise by a court. As provided by M. G. L. c. 210, § 5D, the following persons are eligible to view adoption records:
- The subject of the record (authorized by their biological parents)
- Placement agencies
- Adoptive and biological parents
- Law enforcement agents and agencies.
The Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics holds adoption records going back to 1926, and provides them to eligible persons. To access these records, the requestor may make an in-person request at the registry during business hours, or complete, notarize and send an adoption application record to the office via mail. Requestors are charges $20 for the record when in-person requests are made, and $32 for mail-in requests. Mail applications should be addressed to:
Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
150 Mt. Vernon St.
Dorchester, MA 02125
How Do I Access Divorce Court Records in Massachusetts?
Divorce court records and decrees are generally held and disseminated by the local probate and family court where the divorce was granted. However, interested persons may also obtain these records by querying the state Registry of Vital Records and Statistics.
To obtain a divorce record, the requesting party will be required to provide the case docket number of the record. This can be obtained by contacting the probate and family court where the case was heard. Requestors must download and complete the Request for Copies Form which must contain all the required information, and be accompanied by an attorney’s, bank certified check or bank cashier’s check or a money order payment of the indicated fees. The completed application must then be mailed to the Probate and Family Court where the divorce was granted.
Both government websites and organizations may offer divorce and marriage records. Similarly, third party public record websites can also provide these types of records. But because third party organizations are not operated or sponsored by the government, record availability may vary. Further, marriage and divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.