What Are Florida Family Court Records?
Florida Family Court records are official documents of domestic relations cases heard by Family Courts in the Sunshine State. These records include case files, dockets, and final judgements as well as orders, agreements, and forms generated during family law cases. In Florida, Family Court records are mostly open and publicly accessible. However, certain records are sealed or redacted. Full access to these records are reserved for the parties involved, the legal representatives, and third-party individuals granted access by court orders and state/federal statutes.
What Is a Family Court in Florida?
Florida Family Courts are divisions of state Circuit Courts. While they make up a separate category besides the Civil and Criminal divisions of the Circuit Court, family law matters also fall under the purview of civil cases. The Family Division of the Circuit Court hears cases involving:
- Dissolution of marriage
- Domestic violence
- Name change
- Emancipation of minors
- Juvenile delinquency
- Child, family, and spousal support
To resolve domestic relations issues quicker and make its family law system fairer, Florida uses a One Family One Judge rule for its Family Courts. This rule identifies all domestic relations cases involving members of one family and assigns them to a judge. With this system, the Family Court judge will be familiar with other domestic issues affecting a family and use that knowledge in their decision on current cases.
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Florida
After filing a suit or petition with a Florida Family Court, other individuals named as respondents in the suit/petition must be served with initial court papers. Florida does not allow filing suits to serve these court papers. Similarly, their family and partners cannot serve these papers. The law requires service provided by a neutral party not named in the case or interested in its outcome. This third party must also be at least 18 years old.
Florida Family Court allows these two major types of service for court papers:
- Personal service
- Service by mail or email
To deliver papers filed with the court through personal service, the suing party must hire a deputy sheriff or a private process server. Note that Florida does not allow private process servers to deliver some court papers. One example of such court papers is a petition for injunction for protection against domestic or repeat violence.
When using personal service to deliver court papers, the server must directly hand them over to the other party or a third party over the age of 15 known to live with them.
Florida law also allows constructive service if the other party does not live in the state or cannot be located. Also known as service by publication, you must request to serve papers in this way from a Family Court judge. To grant this privilege, the court expects that you prove to have diligently tried to locate the other party and failed to do so.
Florida Family Court expects individuals bringing suits before it to serve the other parties named within 120 days. Failure to do so will result in the court dismissing the cases unless the suing parties can provide valid reasons for failing to serve the papers. Generally, Family Court papers can be served anywhere and any day of the week except Sunday.
After serving court papers, the server must complete an Affidavit of Service stating what documents were served and where and when they were served. File the Affidavit of Service as proof of service with the court clerk.
What Is Contempt of Court in Family Court in Florida?
A Florida Family Court may hold an individual in contempt of court if they disobeyed a court order. The most common reasons individuals are held in contempt of Family Court are:
- Violating a protective or restraining order
- Refusal to pay court-ordered child or spousal support
- Failure to comply with court-ordered parenting plan including visitation schedule
- Withhold the property of an ex-spouse in defiance of a court order
To get a Florida Family Court to hold another party in an ongoing or completed domestic relations case in contempt, you must file a Motion For Civil Contempt/Enforcement with the Clerk of Court. The court expects you to show that:
- There is a valid, written court order violated by the other party
- The other party knows about and understands this order
- The other party is capable of complying with the order
- The other party clearly and willfully violated the order
- The other party has received notice of the contempt hearing
Upon hearing the contempt case, a Family Court judge may order any combination of the following deterrents and punishments to the individual held in contempt:
- Attendance of compliance hearings
- Parent class attendance and completion
- Payment of attorney fees
Are Florida Family Court Records Available to the Public?
Florida makes the records of its Family Courts available to the public unless expunged or sealed by court orders. Anyone can access these records in person at Clerks’ Offices and online. Florida law offers more complete Family Court records online than in person. To access these records online, members of the public must submit completed and notarized application forms and be approved for access by the Clerks’ Offices. Information required in these forms include user’s name, address, email address, and phone number. Requesters must also provide a reason for using the courts’ online record systems. Online access also requires paying for subscription to court records.
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 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.
Are Florida Divorce Records Sealed or Public Records?
Divorce records are publicly available in Florida. Anyone can access these records as long as they are willing to apply and pay for access and have some knowledge of the divorce. To access Florida divorce records, requesters must complete applications, provide valid reasons for accessing those records, submit their personal information, and pay access fees. Most Florida counties accept requests in person and by mail and also provide online access to divorce records.
Parties to divorces may apply to the court to have some or all of their divorce records sealed. Florida Family Courts rarely grant requests to seal all divorce records. However, they may restrict access to court documents containing sensitive information such as financial information.
How to Look Up Family Law Cases in Florida
To view the details of an ongoing or concluded family law case in Florida, visit the website of the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county where the case was heard. The website of Florida Courts provide direct links to the websites of all Circuit Courts in Florida. To view Family Court records online, navigate to the court record access page on the county’s Circuit Court website. You will need to register on the site and then log in to access the records portal and start searching for family law cases.
How to Request Florida Family Court Records
The public can request for these records from the Offices of the Circuit Court Clerks in the various counties of Florida. You can request these records online, by mail, and in person. Some counties also accept requests sent by fax and delivered over the phone. To request Family Court records in person, visit the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk for the county where the case was held. You can find this address online on the court’s website. Other available contact information includes the Clerk’s phone number, fax number, and email address.
The Clerk’s Office will charge search and copy fees for requested records. Credit/debit cards are required for payment for records requested by phone and fax. For mail requests, include a check or money order for the total amount and make it out to the Clerk as instructed on the Circuit Court website. Include the following information in your request for Florida Family Court records:
- Names of the parties to the records requested
- Case number
- Years to search
- Documents requested
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.