Washington Family Court Records
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What are Washington Family Court Records?
Washington Family Court records are official documents providing details of cases and hearings held at the various courts handling family law matters in the state. These court records include case files and dockets as well as orders, agreements, and petitions. Washington makes most of its Family Court records publicly available.
What Is a Family Court in Washington?
In Washington, the Family Court is a division of the Superior Court. There are 39 Superior Courts in Washington, one for each county. These are trial courts of general jurisdiction. In addition to handling a wide range of civil, probate, and estate matters, Washington Superior Courts also handle family law and juvenile cases. The Family and Juvenile Court divisions of these courts handle family law matters and domestic relations issues involving:
- Divorce and legal separations
- Domestic violence
- Dependency matters
- Child and spousal support
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Washington
Washington requires the individual bringing a legal action in its Family Court to serve initial papers to notify the other party and give them a chance to respond. Washington approves these three ways of serving court paper:
- Personal Service
- Service by Mail
- Service by Publication
Before choosing service by mail or publication, the party bringing the legal action must obtain permission from the court. Personal service describes hand-delivery of court papers to the other party.
Who Can Serve Family Court Papers in Washington?
Washington does not permit the party bringing a legal action to serve their own court papers. They must hire a third-party to do so. This individual must at be at least 18 years old and not involved or named in the suit. The individual initiating a legal action may hire any of the following people to serve court papers:
Sheriffs and professional servers charge certain fees to serve court papers.
To serve court papers by mail, the suing party must convince the court that they diligently and repeatedly tried to serve them in person. When choosing the method, the individual must find someone else to mail the papers for them. Two copies must be sent to the other party. Send the first copy by regular mail and the second by certified mail with return receipt requested.
Service by publication is a last resort. When choosing this option, the suing party must first obtain permission from the court and then find a news publication circulating in an area where the other party lives.
What Is Contempt of Family Court in Washington?
Contempt is the term used for intentionally disobeying a court order or ruling. In family law cases, a person could be held in contempt of court if they:
- Refuse to follow child custody and visitation arrangements
- Refuse to pay court-ordered child or spousal support
- Fail to transfer properties awarded to the other party in a divorce settlement
- Violates a restraining order
To prove a contempt of court, the party petitioning the court must demonstrate that:
- There is a valid court order concerning both parties
- The other party knows the terms of the order
- The other party clearly violated the order even though they have the means not to
- The other party received a notice of contempt hearing
Washington Family Courts may recommend the following punishments for individuals found in contempt of court:
- Compulsory attendance of parental class
- Payment of the other party’s attorney fees
- Jail time
Does Washington Make Family Court Records Public?
Yes. By default, Washington makes all court records available to the public except those redacted or sealed by court order. Washington State Courts General Rule (GR 31) establishes the right and also lists exemptions. While access to record is guaranteed, state court records must omit or redact certain personal identifiers. Redacted information in Washington Family Records include:
- Financial account numbers
- Social security numbers
- Driver’s license numbers
Besides records sealed by court orders, Washington Family Courts specifically makes the following court records confidential and not accessible by the public:
- Juvenile records excluding those involving felonies
- Adoption records
- Paternity records
- Name change records classified as confidential
- Mental health records
- Alcohol and drug treatment records
Washington Family Courts also make certain documents prepared during family law cases unavailable to the public. These include:
- Sealed financial and personal health records
- Vital Statistics forms
- Confidential Information forms
- Law Enforcement Information forms
- Evaluation reports from family and guardianship matters such as parenting, sexual abuse, and domestic violence evaluations as well as risk assessments and guardian ad litem reports
While the public cannot access the contents of sealed documents, they can see records showing that these documents are sealed and inaccessible.
Are Washington Divorce Records Available to the Public?
Washington divorce records are available to the public unless otherwise sealed by court order. Anyone can check divorce court records online or visit the courthouses where the cases were filed to view and order copies. Similarly, the Washington Department of Health provides divorce records upon request. Anyone can order certified copies of any divorce certificate in the state. The Washington State Department of Health does not require requesters to provide identification when ordering vital records. It accepts requests for divorce records in person, by mail, over the phone, and online.
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.
How Do I Look Up Family Court Records in Washington?
The Washington Courts’ website provides access to family law cases filed in the state. Visit the Case Records page of the website and select Superior Court Cases. You can search for court records by name and case number. Alternatively, look up case files on the Odyssey Portal of Washington Courts Online Case Search. The records of all Washington State Superior Courts are available on this portal except those of King County Superior Court. To search for family law cases filed at King County Superior Court, visit its Clerk’s Record Access Portal.
It is also possible to access family law case records at the Superior Court Clerk’s Offices. Visit the websites of the various Superior Courts in Washington to find the addresses to their Clerk’s Offices and other information required to access Family Court records. Some of these County Clerk’s Offices do not have websites. Find the locations and phone numbers of these courthouses using the Washington Superior Court Directory. Before visiting a Clerk’s Office, call ahead to enquire about the availability of desired court records and the office’s business hours.
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.
How Do I Request Washington Family Court Records?
Washington State Superior Court Clerk’s Offices maintain Family Court records and provide copies of publicly available documents. Requests for these records must go to these offices. First, check the website of the Clerk’s Office before preparing your request. Some websites provide detailed instructions about how to order copies of court records. If this information is not available, call the Clerk’s Office to ask about the steps required to obtain copies of Family Court records.
King County Superior Court Clerk’s Office is an example of a Washington Clerk’s Office that provides detailed instructions about obtaining copies of court records. It accepts requests submitted online, sent by mail, and presented in person. Visit the King County Superior Court Clerk’s Office website to download a request form or use its Electronic Records Request application. Like other Washington Clerk’s Offices, it charges nominal copy and shipping fees for requested court records.