Are Child Custody Records Open to the Public?

With some few exceptions, custody records, just as divorce records are open to the public. When the court finalizes and determines the case regarding child custody, these records can be accessed by anyone except some confidential aspects that touch on the children. In most cases, the court will upload the records online for easy access by the parties. 

To answer this, yes, child custody records are available to the public except in some circumstances that we are going to discuss. If parents have legally divorced and custody decisions have been made by the court, then those records are open to the public. 

It is also important to note that each state has its laws regarding the freedom of information and what court records to make public. However, most of the courts operate in a similar way when it comes to matters to do with court records. 

What are court records? 

Before we delve more into whether or not court records are open to the public, it is important to understand the court records that we are talking about. 

Court records are files or documents that contain details of cases determined by the court such as exhibits, orders, and anything that the court deems to be important to the parties involved in the case. These records can be available in the courts’ database and can be accessed by anyone for the purposes of non-profit organizations, parties to the case, and for academic research among others. 

However, not all records are subject to public inspection. Some are deemed confidential and not available to the public. 

Court records that are not on open to the public 

As we have mentioned, there are confidential records that are not open to the public for purposes of protecting the parties from the public and that includes: 

  • Proceedings of juvenile cases. 
  • Adoption proceedings. 
  • Mental health evaluation findings. 
  • Cases of domestic violence, drug, and substance abuse evaluations. 
  • Income tax returns. 
  • Financial accounts and social security details. 

All matters that are sensitive to the parties and confidential are not subject to public inspection and thus only the parties to the case and their attorneys can access the records whenever they want by request. Of course, there are so many other confidential records that may not be subjected to public repository for purposes that we have mentioned. 

Child custody records 

As we have seen above, child custody records are not part of the confidential records except in a few instances that we will discuss. Generally, child custody records are available when parents divorce legally and the court determines on their child custody case. 

Just as when the proceedings are handled by the court, the family court is open to the public, except in some cases where the judge or magistrate may exclude the public from the courtroom. After the proceedings, the court then makes decisions and makes records available to the parties and to the public, except the court proceedings on confidential matters. 

Mutual agreement records 

There is an exception as we mentioned. As parents, if you want your child custody records to be confidential, then you only need to have an out of court settlement, where you and your ex-spouse agree on child custody issues, then you can only enforce it through the court. Your agreements can only be approved by the court to be enforceable but are not subjected to the public domain or repository. 

This is normally the case with parents who have not legally divorced and have just separated or are not married. 

Child custody decisions after divorce 

As we hinted above, parents who have divorced and seek the court determination on their child custody issues will have their records on public repository where anyone may access. The court will only conceal confidential matters to do with financial records, mental health evaluation, and other sensitive matters depending on the laws of the state, and the court. 

Court proceedings 

The records of the court proceedings are made public by the court. This is so with child custody matters that are not sensitive. In addition to that, and as we mentioned, the hearing of child custody proceedings in most states is open to the public, except when the judge excludes the public from accessing the courtroom. 

Therefore, once the decision has been reached after the court proceedings, the judge will then make the records available for online access. Where the parties may wish to have paper records, the court can make them available upon request by the parties, and also depending on how the court operates. 

Why the publicity of court records?

The court records are made public for the purpose of promoting transparency and justice. The public can access the decisions of the court, as granted by the freedom of information. This helps to make the courts accountable in their decisions. This, therefore, works to better the justice system and make the courts more accurate in their determinations. 

How to limit access 

There are instances when you can request the court to limit access to some parts of the information that you and your ex-spouse may not want the public to have access to. With this, it is important to work with an experienced attorney so that he or she can guide you on the possibilities of having some parts of the child custody records concealed from the public. 

The easiest way however, is to have a private agreement on child custody and that is a sure way to prevent child custody records from getting into the public domain. 

Conclusion 

We can now confidently say, child custody records are made public by the court and are available for public inspection. This has been a custom to hold the courts accountable and transparent as per the freedom of information that grants the public the right to information. However, not every detail of the records can be availed to the public, and so to privately agreed custody plans. 

As we mentioned, there are few exceptional records that are not subjected to the public domain for the purposes of promoting confidentiality. In addition to that, parents who have come up with private plans on child custody are not subject to public inspection.