Child custody records, like other family law records, are usually public record, but this is not always the case. And in states where child custody records are generally publicly available, custodial parents may choose to have them sealed, effectively removing them from the public record.
Typically, child custody orders are in the public record, which means anybody can access them through the court. However, they are not always available publicly, and when they are, custody records that contain identifying information like children’s ages and residences may be redacted. This is to protect the children from potential threats to their safety. Whether a custody order is a public record in the first place varies from state to state.
Which Custody Documents Are Public Records?
Are custody records public record? The short answer to the question is "somewhat." Divorce records, including child custody orders, are generally available in the public record. However, due to the potentially sensitive nature of these orders, they are typically kept more private than other kinds of civil orders. This means that individuals accessing the public record can see that a child custody order exists, but they might not be able to see the children’s names, the parents’ addresses or even the details of the parents’ timesharing schedule.
Generally, supporting documents used to create child custody orders are sealed so they are not part of the public record. These documents include:
- Guardian ad litem reports
- Healthcare records
- Parents’ financial records
- Parental evaluations conducted by child custody evaluators
- Files used to support child custody decisions, like domestic violence reports
Child support orders are often handled the same way as child custody orders. In many states, including Texas, California and Florida, the specific details included in child support orders are not publicly available. However, anybody may access the county court record to see which child support cases are currently pending and those that are already in place.
Accessing Public Divorce Records
Any person interested in accessing child custody records or other divorce orders can do so through the court that handled the case. In most jurisdictions, this is the circuit court of the county where at least one of the divorcing partners resided at the time the divorce was filed. Court records may also be found online, although the person seeking these records may need to visit the courthouse in person to access them in some jurisdictions. She might also have to pay a fee to access the court records.
Just like with child custody records, certain documents pertaining to a couple’s divorce might be kept out of the public record even when their divorce case is available to view. These documents are often the same documents used to make child custody determinations, such as tax records, documentation of the couples’ marital assets and reports of domestic violence.
Sealing Child Custody Records for Safety
Parents and other adults who have legal custody of children, such as grandparents, can request that the child custody orders be sealed to protect the child’s safety. A legal order is removed from the public record when it's sealed and it becomes accessible only through a valid motion made to the court. In some states, such as Texas, the only way to view a sealed court order is to file a motion to view it, then attend a hearing where the court determines whether there are sufficient grounds to unseal the record.
When requesting that a child custody record be sealed, the individual looking to seal the record must provide sufficient information to demonstrate that sealing it is in the child’s best interest. This could be because the child’s other parent has a record of domestic violence or attempted kidnapping; there are other adults with an interest in harming or kidnapping the child; or the parent himself feels that his safety would be in danger if the custody order were made available in the public record.
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