Instant Court Case Lookup

The following is for information purposes only

Family Courts

What is a Family Court?

A family court is a specialized court established to handle legal issues arising from family relationships.

The procedures in family court are more lenient than those of the civil and criminal courts. It is also notable for its distinct intake procedures, which filter prospective cases to remove those that do not need judicial attention.

What Types of Cases are Handled by Family Courts?

Family lawsuits are a subset of civil cases, although they often include disputes between spouses, parents, and children.

Family courts handle a wide range of domestic-related problems. These are the most frequent types of cases addressed by family courts:

Marriage Dissolution

When someone wishes to dissolve a marriage, they can petition the family court for an order dissolving the marriage. Marriages can end with a divorce or an annulment.

Also, the court may award a separation in which the parties remain legally married, but the court provides rules on property, alimony, and child custody.

Custody and Visitation

A person who has custody of a child is legally responsible for the child's welfare.

The judge will determine who should have custody of the child and issue an official court document known as a custody order after hearing both sides of the case.

Also, the judge may sign a visitation order, a formal court document stating that the custodial child must permit visits under specified conditions.

The court can give visitation rights to those who no longer have custody of their child but have the court's authorization to see the child at certain times.


A paternity case is filed with the family court to determine whether or not an accused man is the father of an illegitimate child. Frequently, the individual asserting paternity or the person suspected of being the father of the child requests or the court orders a blood test.

Either party or the court may seek a further test called a Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) test. This test often determines whether or not a man is the father of a child, but it may be expensive.

Orders of Protection Against Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is violent conduct done by one spouse to obtain or retain power and control over another. Physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse are common. While various organizations describe abuse differently, most victims suffer in many forms.

Abuse victims frequently need the court's support to leave a dangerous situation and stay safe. Domestic violence victims can petition the family court for protection orders to keep their abuser away.

Name Changes

A child or adult may be able to legally alter their name in family court via a name change lawsuit.


Guardianship entails establishing who will make medical, personal, and financial choices on behalf of a child or adult who cannot care for themselves.

Parental Rights Termination and Adoptions

Suppose there are substantial reasons why a parent should no longer have parental contact with a child (such as abandonment, abuse, etc.). In that case, the family court can terminate that parent's parental rights. If another person wishes to become a child's legal parent, the family court will authorize an adoption that creates the parent-child connection.

Juvenile Matters

The family court has jurisdiction over all cases involving claims of child abuse, child neglect, or juveniles suspected of criminal activity. It is primarily the responsibility of the District Attorney's Juvenile Division. Also, the family court may award employment permits for adolescents under 14 years old.

Juvenile Delinquency

In most state laws, a juvenile delinquent is a minor between the ages of 7 and 16 who performs an act that, if committed by an adult, would constitute a misdemeanor or felony.

A 13, 14, or 15-year-old who commits certain severe felonies may undergo prosecution as an adult or refer to family court.

Emancipation and Approval of Marriages Between Minors

Those under 18 who seek to marry or become "emancipated", or legally independent from parental authority, can request the family court for authorization.

What are Family Court Procedures?

The procedures of family courts differ in every state in the United States, but here's the common framework of the family court proceedings:

Petition Filing

To bring a matter before the family court, an individual or organization must first file a petition. The Petitioner is the person or group that submits the petition, whereas the Respondent is the person who is the subject of the petition.

The petition is a sworn document detailing the facts of the matter before the family court. You must fill out the petition if you do not have legal representation.


Mediation is a necessary family court procedure in which parties have the chance to settle their disputes and create their agreement, which, if approved by a Judge or Commissioner, becomes a Court Order.

Custody, visitation, child support, and guardianship disputes are often subject to mediation. The court considers that all parties should seek to mediate and resolve their conflicts. However, extreme cases may warrant skipping mediation.

Initial Appearance

The judge reviews the petition and explains the charges or relief requests at the Initial Appearance. Unless represented by counsel, the judge will explain the parties' rights. In certain situations, the court will appoint counsel to someone who can't afford one and issue a summons. In severe cases, a court may issue an arrest warrant.

After the Initial Appearance, the court schedules a meeting between the lawyers and the judge's law clerk to discuss the petition and if they can resolve the case without a trial.

If the parties cannot achieve a complete agreement on the concerns, the court will order a trial in which the judge will settle the issues.

In family court, the judge handles all hearings.

Fact-Finding Hearing

In most state family courts, there may be one or two stages to the trial. The fact-finding hearing is the final phase in any custody, visitation, paternity, or support case.

Family offenses, Juvenile Delinquency, Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS), abuse, neglect, or permanent neglect cases must undergo two steps: the fact-finding hearing takes place first, followed by the dispositional hearing.

The court will consider all evidence during the fact-finding hearing. The judge will dismiss the case if there are no proven facts.

Occasionally, the issue or organization that wanted the matter heard in family court can withdraw the case.

During the fact-finding phase of custody, visitation, paternity, and child support hearings, the court will also determine what remedies to issue if the facts are proven.

If there are proven facts in cases involving family crimes, abuse, neglect, or persistent neglect, the case advances to the dispositional hearing.

Dispositional Hearing

A dispositional hearing occurs if a court finds the petition is factual and there is a legal remedy. The dispositional hearing will begin after the fact-finding hearing or on another day. At the dispositional hearing, the judge determines what to do with the proven facts.

The precise dispositions from which the judge may pick vary depending on the nature of the case.

Case Appeal

You may appeal if you think the court's ruling and order are inappropriate. A higher court will examine the family court's judgment. It will help if you discuss this with your lawyer.

Inform your lawyer if you wish to appeal so he can tell the court. You'll have one appointed if you can't afford a lawyer. Consult your lawyer about appealing the case.

Typically, you must submit a notice of appeal within 30 days after the judge rules your matter. If you miss the 30-day deadline, you forfeit your opportunity to appeal.

What are the Differences Between Civil and Family Laws?

Most of the time, the law is either criminal or civil. There are two main types of civil law: general civil and family.

Civil law governs conflicts between individuals or organizations. Under this law, disputes might include contracts, property, wills, personal harm, etc. When someone owes another money, that's a civil conflict.

Significant aspects of civil law include torts (deliberate wrongdoing), negligence (unintentional violation of the law), contract law, and many more. Instead of prosecuting the defendant, plaintiffs file a claim against them.

In place of fines and imprisonment, plaintiffs request that the judge award damages (typically owing money) or impose injunctions (court-ordered behavior) to the defendant.

In family law, the federal government has enacted statutes. Family law concerns arise when an intimate relationship ends and might entail child care. Technically, they are civil law concerns, but the family court has its standards and court processes.

Where to Find Family Court Records?

Typically, you can find information regarding family court cases by contacting the office of the court's record keeper. Most courts in different states provide access to various court records through their website.

But if you can't find your state family court website or the appropriate court, you can use the following alternatives to speed up your search:

  • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
  • Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER)
  • FamilySearch

If you don't prefer to visit the court for a hard copy, through the above resource tools, you can get copies online for a fee or at no cost.