Pennsylvania Family Court Records
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What are Pennsylvania Family Court Records?
Pennsylvania family court records are official, legal documents detailing the litigation processes of family courts within the jurisdiction of the state. These records include all information pertaining to family-related case hearings including court dockets, filed motions and orders as well as judgments and decrees made regarding these cases. In general, court records may be made available to interested and eligible persons upon request. However, the eligibility requirements for accessing family court records may vary depending on the requested record(s) and the sensitivity of the information contained therein.
What Cases are Heard by Pennsylvania Family Courts?
Family courts in Pennsylvania are civil courts of limited jurisdiction charged with hearing cases relating to family law. Essentially, a family court typically hears cases regarding marriages and divorces, child adoption and custody, domestic abuse, guardianship, restraining orders, children's rights, minor emancipation, and related matters. Pursuant to Pennsylvania family laws, Pennsylvania family courts also hears matters relating to controversial issues such as abortion and unique familial relationships.
Pennsylvania's judicial system comprises the state's 60 judicial districts all of which operate individual civil courts. Most family law cases are processed in the state's three-level tribunal system involving the magisterial district court and the court of common pleas. Thus, family court records are managed by court administrators of the various magisterial courts and courts of common pleas.
What is Included in Pennsylvania Family Court Records?
Pennsylvania family court records contain a variety of legally relevant information which are often unique to each case. These records may also vary depending on the court where the case was filed and the record is maintained. Generally, however, most court records feature details of the dispute/complaint as well as the personal information of the plaintiff/defendant, all relevant details of court proceedings including evidence filed, trial transcripts and motion arguments.
Records of cases tried in court also include judgment and ascribed penalties which may include any fines or agreed upon financial settlements. Most of this information is usually included on the docket sheets of Pennsylvania’s Appellate Courts, Courts of Common Pleas and Magisterial District Courts.
Are Family Court Records Public in Pennsylvania?
Following the establishment of Pennsylvania’s public access policy, the generation and management of family court records are the responsibility of designated court custodians. These custodians are tasked with fulfilling requests for access to case records provided these records are not deemed confidential as indicated in 42 Pa.C.S. § 6355 and defined by Pa.R.C.P. No. 1931(a) of Pennsylvania's record dissemination laws. Following the states public access policy on confidential information, persons lacking the applicable legal authority may not access family court records which indicate:
- The personal information of a minor (if charged for a criminal offense)
- The address of an abuse victim or other contact information
- The social security number, financial account number, state identification numbers and driver's license number of persons involved in the case.
- The educational, medical/psychological records of a minor
- Child services records
- Marital property records and inventory of divorced/divorcing persons.
Persons seeking the above-mentioned information (or records where these are contained) may only access them if authorized by a court order or if they are a subject of or attorney to the subject(s) of the record of interest. Following the aforementioned policy, eligible persons may not access these records remotely but at a court facility. This includes all confidential, sealed or protected information, and transcript in family court actions as indicated by Pa.R.C.P. No. 1931(a) of Pennsylvania state laws.
How Do I Get Family Court Records in Pennsylvania?
As is the case with most court records, Pennsylvania family court records are accessible through a variety of channels. Primarily, records are managed and disseminated by the office of the court administrator in the courthouse where the case was filed and/or heard. In Pennsylvania, this could be any one of the courts of common pleas in the state's 60 judicial districts. As such, record searches must begin by locating the jurisdiction where the case was filed.
How to Obtain Pennsylvania Family Court Records Online
The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania operates a web portal which provides state residents with remote access to court case information from various courts. The portal provides individual tools for conducting online court record searches for appellate courts, courts of common pleas and magisterial district courts.
Family court records are primarily managed by the courts of common pleas which hears trials of civil family cases and orphan court matters including cases of divorce, adoption and child support as well as estates and trusts. These records may also be maintained by Pennsylvania’s Superior Court or Commonwealth Court which both serve as the state's two intermediate appellate courts and hears appeals from lower courts including courts of common pleas.
To access family court records online, interested persons may utilize the common pleas courts docket tool or appellate court docket tool. This typically requires that the requestor provide relevant information regarding the record of interest, such as the docket number, names of either party of the complaint or incident number assigned by law enforcement (if applicable).
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 a 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 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 Pennsylvania Family Court Records
In-person record requests are especially recommended for obtaining transcripts of family court actions (except those attached to a motion) or other forms of confidential information. Requestors are required to locate the custodian of the record of interest - this may be a court of common pleas or appellate court in the jurisdiction where the case was filed/heard. In order to obtain a record, the requesting party will be required to know and provide information relevant for facilitating record searches. This may include the names of the parties involved, the date of filing, docket number and related information. Upon making in-person requests, requestors will also be required to present a government-issued ID to verify their eligibility to access these records. This, along with payment to cover search/copy costs are a general requirement for accessing court records (especially authenticated copies in paper form).
In addition to the aforementioned details, most courts have specific requirements for accessing family court records. In some cases, the requestor must also be named on the record of interest or be authorized by a subpoena to obtain a record.
How to Access Pennsylvania Family Court Records Via Mail
An alternative to querying a courthouse in person to obtain a record, interested members of the public may obtain family court records by sending a written request via US mail. Written requests must state relevant details of the record required including the record type, the full name(s) of the parties involved, the date and place the case was filed and the case file number of the record.
Requestors may also be required to enclose a cheque or money order payment for any indicated fees, as well as a copy of a government-issued photo-ID, and self-addressed envelope for delivering the requested records to the requesting party.
Specialized Family Court Records
In addition to generating and managing records of court proceedings during family-law cases, Pennsylvania family courts issue and maintain records of judgments and decrees which provide legal validation for adoption, divorce, child custody, and other family-related processes. These records may be useful for legal and/or financial purposes.
How to Obtain Pennsylvania Adoption Records
While adoption records are generally considered to be private or sealed, the state of Pennsylvania provides access to these records to adoptees who meet specific eligibility requirements. As per Pennsylvania state laws, adult adoptees (18 years or older) may obtain copies of adoption records upon request.
Contained in most adoption records are identifying information about the adoptee and their birth and adoptive parents, information of the adoption agency involved in the process, birth information of the adoptee (if known) and details of the adoption finalization.
In the state of Pennsylvania adopted individuals may obtain adoption records by requesting their birth record (which is often sealed along with adoption information). To make this request, the adopted person or their lineal descendant(if the adoptee is deceased) will be required to download and complete Pennsylvania's Adoptees Application for Birth Records. Completed forms must be delivered along with the indicated fees and a photocopy of the requestor's identification to:
Department of Health
Division of Vital Records
Attn: Adoptee Applications
PO Box 1528
New Castle, PA 16103-1528
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.
How Do I Access Divorce Court Records in Pennsylvania?
In the state of Pennsylvania, divorce records are managed and disseminated by the courthouse in the county where the divorce was granted. By law, these divorces decrees are public record and can be made available to interested members of the public upon request. The contact information of the various county clerks of courts is available on the UJS Clerks of Courts page.
To obtain a divorce record the requesting party will be required to provide the case docket number of the record, and the identifying information of the divorce parties. Requestors will also be required to cover the cost of the fees associated with the divorce record request. Mail-in requests must also include a self-addressed stamped envelope and a cheque or money order payment for the aforementioned fee.