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Where To Find Family Court Records In Pennsylvania?

There are no separate family courts in Pennsylvania. Instead, the Court of Common Pleas (CCP) handles all domestic relations, besides other civil and criminal matters. However, records for civil cases, including family court records, are maintained by a separate Clerk, the Prothonotary, in most counties. Hence, requests to view or copy Pennsylvania family court records are addressed to the Prothonotary of the CCP, where the case was filed.

Note, the term “Domestic Relations Unit” is used interchangeably with the “Family Court Division” in CCPs across the state. A total of 451 judges currently preside over family law cases in the Courts of Common Pleas across 60 judicial districts in the state. Typically, cases handled by these judges include marriage, adoption, emancipation, custody, dependency, paternity, child support, protection from domestic abuse, and divorce.

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 Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania family law is contained under Title 23 of the state’s statutes. This law addresses matters of domestic relations under nine different sections. While the first section summarizes the general provision of the law, the other sections are:

  • Marriage
  • Adoption
  • Divorce
  • Support, Property, and Contracts
  • Children and Minors
  • Abuse of Family
  • Uniform Interstate Family Support
  • Miscellaneous Provisions

Note, the ninth part of this statute, Miscellaneous Provisions, has been repealed as of December 19, 1990. The part contained provisions on the legitimacy of children.

What Are Family Court Cases And Records In Pennsylvania?

Like in most jurisdictions in the U.S., family law in Pennsylvania covers cases of adoption, divorce, child custody, marriage, paternity, and other domestic matters. Pennsylvania family laws also address criminal cases like domestic violence and child abuse and controversial matters, including same-sex union and abortion rights.

In Pennsylvania, most cases in the family court fall under either the Domestic Relations Office or the Juvenile Court section. The Domestic Relations Office handles matters of divorce, child custody and visitation, child support, dependency, paternity, and domestic violence protection orders. On the other hand, cases of adoption, juvenile delinquency, child abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, and children in need of supervision are heard at the Juvenile Court.

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 Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania family Court records are open to the public in line with the state’s open records policy, Right-to-Know law. Therefore, interested persons may access copies of the family records via the public access terminals at the local courthouse where the case was finalized or over the internet for courthouses with civil docket web access.

However, the public cannot access family records that are sealed under a statute or by court order. Juvenile case information and adoption records are examples of family records not accessible to the general public, except authorized persons. Note, copying available family records may attract a nominal fee depending on the volume of the request.

How Do I Find Family Court Records In Pennsylvania?

Family cases in Pennsylvania are heard in the Court of Common Pleas. Records of these proceedings are maintained by the Prothonotary’s Office of the Court of Common Pleas in each county. Interested persons can visit this office to request a view or copies of available family court records.

A request to the Prothonotary’s Office may be oral or written submitted in person or by mail. If a full docket or large volumes of information are required, such an individual must put the request into writing. Such requestors must use the Request for Access Form or provide information in a similar format. The following information must be contained in the application:

  • Full names of the persons listed in the record
  • The case ID or Docket number
  • Name of Requester
  • Contact details and daytime phone number of the requester
  • Email and fax addresses of the requester

Submit the completed application to the Prothonotary’s Office of the Common Pleas Court, where the case was filed. Note, a request may be returned unprocessed for several reasons:

  • The necessary information needed to process the request is absent in the application
  • The record does not exist or not available as at the time of the request
  • The record requested is not a case record by state policy
  • Requested record is sealed from public access
  • Incorrect completion of the form

Some parts of family court records are redacted and deemed confidential by the operation of law. Hence, third party requestors are not allowed access to such case information. These exceptions include:

  • Financial information of persons named in the record such as social security numbers and financial statements
  • Details about children involved in the case
  • State IDs and driver’s licenses
  • Information about victims in the case

Generally, copies of court records are provided at 25 cents per page. There may be other additional costs at the county level, depending on the type and volume of each request.

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?

In Pennsylvania, the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania offers central online access to all court records, except civil court records. Family court records are a part of civil court records that are maintained by the Prothonotary Office of each Court of Common Pleas. Hence, the Office of Prothonotary in most counties offer separate online access to family court records along with other civil court records. Typically, the larger counties, like Philadelphia, Bucks, Allegheny, offer online family records search.

Note counties like Delaware and Lehigh do not have a separate Prothonotary office from the Clerk of Courts Office. Available case information online may be limited. Hence, a requestor may have to visit the local court where the case was heard to obtain a complete and certified copy of a family record.

What Is Pennsylvania Custody Law?

In Pennsylvania, Title 23 of the state’s statute provides the provisions for domestic relations. Chapter 53 of this statute highlights the guidelines for child custody. When the family court in Pennsylvania handles a custody case, it has to decide between two types of legal custody and five types of physical custody permissible under the local law. Pennsylvania law permits both sole and shared legal custody. However, physical custody may be any of:

  • Primary custody: where only one party retains the right to care for the child majority of the time
  • Shared custody: equal contact with the child
  • Partial custody: the right to unsupervised visitation at designated times
  • Supervised custody allowed visitation under the oversight of a relative, a friend, or a county agent.
  • Sole custody: granted in rare circumstance for a party to have exclusive physical custody

Per Subsection 5328 under Title 23, a number of factors are considered when awarding custody. These include but not limited to:

  • A history of abuse of the adopting party
  • The need for stability for the adoptee in terms of family life
  • Career development and community life
  • Personal preferences of the child
  • Family relationships,
  • The general health and mental condition of the adopting party

Parties may jointly obtain a custody order or file a Complaint for Custody at the county courthouse or family court. Persons that can file for physical custody of a child in Pennsylvania include:

  • The natural parent
  • A legal adopter
  • A grandparent of the child (under some circumstances)
  • A non-parent has cared for the child for an extended period (loco parentis)
  • Any person willing to assume responsibility for the child (where neither parent can care or control the child)

How To Find Family Court Lawyers In Pennsylvania?

Finding a family court lawyer may be a daunting task. However, Pennsylvania citizens may begin their search on the webpage of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Users may apply the Find an Attorney tool to locate lawyers living within a city or county.

Alternatively, interested persons may use the lawyer referral service on the website of their county bar association or go through the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) homepage. Currently, the PBA Lawyer Referral Service covers 45 of Pennsylvania 67 counties. Contact numbers are provided for each covered county.

Also, residents of the state may contact the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network to find a local legal aid society. A lot of these legal aid organizations provide pro bono family law services. The search tool on the organization’s website permits users to filter queries by name or county. Each search result includes contact phone numbers and web addresses of legal aids operating within the locality.

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