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Where To Find Family Court Cases In Massachusetts

Family Courts in Massachusetts hear cases of domestic relationships such as marriage dissolution, paternity, as well as alimony and child custody. These courts decide matters relating to the state’s family law. Records and files generated during the resolution family-related cases are called family court records. The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts have jurisdiction over cases of domestic relations. Those seeking access to these records may obtain them by directing their requests to the court clerk of the probate and family court where the case of interest was filed.

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 Massachusetts

The general family law governing marriage, dissolution marriage, child welfare, and other marital situations in Massachusetts is Chapter 208 of the Massachusetts General Laws (MGLA). This law consists of 55 sections addressing all situations that could arise from a divorce or marriage dissolution. Some of these sections include:

  • Sections 28–33: Address child support and maintenance, interstate divorces and custody issues, visitation, and custody orders.
  • Sections 34–39: Focuses on alimony or spousal maintenance, foreign divorces, and their validity within the state of Massachusetts.
  • Section 40; Cohabitation after divorce
  • Section 41; Personation
  • Section 42; Procurement of an unlawful divorce
  • Section 43; Advertisement to procure a divorce
  • Section 44; Unlawful issuance of divorce certificate
  • Section 45; Criminal offenses
  • Section 46; Statistical reports
  • Section 48; Definitions applicable to Secs. 49 to 55
  • Section 49; Termination, suspension or modification of general term alimony
  • Section 50; Termination, extension or modification of rehabilitative alimony
  • Section 51; Termination of reimbursement alimony; modification; applicability of income guidelines
  • Section 52; Termination of transitional alimony; modification or extension
  • Section 53; Determination of form, amount and duration of maintenance; maximum amount; income calculation; deviations; concurrent child support orders
  • Section 54; Remarriage of the payor; income from second job or overtime work
  • Section 55; Reasonable security for alimony in the event of payor’s death; orders to maintain life insurance; modification of orders

What Are Family Court Cases And Records In Massachusetts

The Probate and Family Courts handle a variety of cases involving disputes within the family such as:

  • Divorce, annulments, and separation,
  • Alimony or spousal maintenance
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Child support
  • Paternity of children with unmarried parents
  • Domestic violence and abuse prevention.
  • Adoption
  • Termination of parental rights,
  • Stalking and protective orders
  • Guardianship
  • Emancipation
  • Approval of underage marriages

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 Massachusetts

Family court records are presumed to be public records pursuant to the Massachusetts Law of Freedom of Information and Public Records. However, this law is not blanketing in nature. Records exempted from disclosure by state statutes or court rule are unavailable for public inspection. Such records may include details pertaining to juvenile records, domestic violence victims, child molestation victims, adoptions, sensitive financial information of the parties involved, and other relevant health information.

How Do I Find Family Court Records In Massachusetts

Members of the public may be granted access to public family court records on request from the probate and family court, where the cases are primarily filed and heard. Inquirers may visit the courthouse in person or look through the family court directory provided by the state’s judicial branch to see if the court of interest offers alternate means of record retrieval.

However, visiting the courthouse is always advisable because the Supreme Judicial Court in the state has determined that more information should be available in the courthouse than online.

Some courts in the state have computer kiosks or terminals where inquirers may access all electronically available case information at no charge. However, small fees will be required for duplication and reproduction of any record.

When seeking access to family court records in Massachusetts, the inquirer must first locate the court where the case of interest was filed and heard using the family court directory.

The individual will be required to provide a written request or completed request form, along with some identifying information to help locate the record in question. Such information may include case number, names of parties involved, the full date of when the case was initially heard, etc. Requesters are advised to be sufficiently precise with their requests to avoid unnecessary delays or even denial.

The request for family court records may be denied if the requested record is sealed by court order. The individual may ask to see the order and decide to petition the court for access or simply view the redacted version if available.

If the record is available for public disclosure, the court clerk will respond promptly to the request and provide the file in the format that it was requested. On some occasions, the requested record may be stored outside the courthouse or not readily accessible by the court clerk. In this case, the clerk may notify the individual of the situation and make efforts to procure the file within a reasonable time, usually within 10 days.

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?

Interested persons can remotely access public family court records via the eAccess and Docket Search portals provided on the Massachusetts government website. Researchers can visit the Massachusetts State Archives for historical family court records. Instructions on how to use the court docket search function can be gotten from the Instructions Page.

What Is Massachusetts Custody Law?

Child custody laws in Massachusetts are provided under Chapters 208 and 209 of the Massachusetts General Laws. The sections include;

  • Section 28 of Chapter 208- Child care, custody, and maintenance
  • Section 29 of Chapter 208- Foreign divorces and minors
  • Section 30 of Chapter 208- Moving the child’s residence from the state
  • Section 31 of Chapter 208- Shared custody
  • Section 31-A of Chapter 208- Consideration of abuse
  • Section 32 of Chapter 208- Presenting the child before the court
  • Section 38 of Chapter 209- Visitation and custody orders
  • Chapter 209B- Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act
  • Section 10 of Chapter 209C- Criteria for the award of custody.

These laws address the type of custody arrangements that may be decided upon by the court in a custody case. The forms of custody recognized in Massachusetts include:

  • Sole legal custody: This gives the rights and responsibilities to make significant decisions regarding a child’s welfare and wellbeing to only one parent.
  • Shared legal custody: This gives continued mutual responsibility and involvement in major decisions regarding a child’s welfare and wellbeing to both parents.
  • Physical custody: This involves the responsibility of providing a home for the child or children involved. The court may grant one of the parents sole physical custody or grant both parents shared physical custody.

Typically, the court considers some factors during a child custody case to determine what legal custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest. These factors include:

  • Parents’ history of substance and domestic abuse,
  • The standard of living each parent,
  • The child’s special needs,
  • Parent’s history and willingness to cooperate in matters that concern the child.

How To Find Family Court Lawyers In Massachusetts

The Massachusetts government website offers a Find a Lawyer webpage where interested persons can get attorney recommendations. The website also provides a list of other lawyer referral services from the Massachusetts and city bar associations.

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