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What Are Texas Family Court Records?
Texas Family Court records are the official documents describing the processes involved in the trials and hearings of cases handled by Texas Family Courts, Texas Child Courts (both Protection, and Support). These records include case files, dockets orders, judgements, and verifications of licenses and decrees issued by county and district courts in Texas. Records are available both locally at the physical location where the vital or family incident took place, as well as online.
What Is a Family Court in Texas?
In Texas, district courts and county courts handle family law cases. In densely populated counties, Family Courts may standalone from other divisions of the District Court, which includes specially designated child courts. The jurisdiction of these courts cover domestic relations matters including:
- Divorce and separation
- Domestic violence
- Family and spousal support
- Elder abuse
Besides family courts, Texas also has Children’s Courts that handle certain aspects of family law matters pertaining to minors. There are two types of Children’s Courts in Texas: Child Support and Child Protection Courts.
Texas Child Support Courts assist Family Courts by expediting child support cases. The courts are presided by associated judges appointed by the presiding judges of the administrative judicial regions where they belong. Texas Child Protection Courts also assist trial courts and deal with cases of child abuse and neglect. These courts are found in rural areas of the state and headed by associated judges appointed by presiding judges.
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Texas
Everyone named as a respondent in a family law case must be served with initial court papers in Texas prior to any court action. Court papers that must be served include citations, copies of petitions, and copies of the forms attached to petitions. The state approves the follow methods for serving court papers:
- Personal Service
- Service by Mail
- Substituted Service by Court Order
- Service by Posting
- Service by Publication
Personal Service is the most reliable method and the respondent does not have to sign for receiving court papers. Using this service, the approved server hand-delivers initial court papers to the respondent and then completes a Return of Service form detailing the time and location of service. This form must be filed with the court.
Service by Posting requires mailing initial court papers to respondents by certified or registered mail and requesting signed return receipt. Servers can then complete and file Return of Service forms with the court.
Substituted Service involves leaving the copies of initial court papers with anyone over the age of 16 at a location where the respondent is certain to get them. This option is only available when approved by a court order. Petitioners must apply to the court to use this option by filing a Motion for Substituted Service. They must show the presiding judge that an approved serve has tried to serve the respondent in person or by mail without success and that the respondent can be found at the location where the service was attempted.
Service by Posting and Publication are only approved if the server cannot find the respondent after looking really hard for them. Texas Family Courts approve Service by Posting only for cases that do not involve children and Service by Publication for cases involving children.
Who Can Serve Family Court Papers in Texas?
The state does not allow defendants or petitioners to serve initial Family Court papers themselves. Rather, they must obtain the services of one of the following individuals to do so. Approved servers for Family Court papers in Texas include:
- Court Clerk
- Private Process Server
Only initial court papers need to be served by servers. Defendants/petitioners can serve respondents and/or their lawyers with subsequent court papers themselves. The following delivery methods are approved for sending Family Law court papers:
- Hand delivery
- Regular or Certified Mail
What Is Contempt of Court in Family Court in Texas?
Contempt of Court in Texas (Covered in Title 2 of the Judicial Branch Statutes) usually involves disputes over custody, child support or other family related orders. It is used as a remedy to compel one of the child’s parents to pay child support should the party fail to comply. It can also be used to remedy situations where one of the parents or guardians fail to appear in court in order to offer an excuse as to why support payments were not paid.
Further contempt of court in Texas Family Law can be used to remedy a situation where one of the parties involved violates a condition of child custody or other type of court case. For example, in a child support or child custody case, if one parent denies visitation or routinely makes matters difficult or hostile, contempt of court may be used to order this party to comply with the previously agreed conditions of custody or support. If these conditions are not met, a district or county court has the power to enforce payment (in the case of support payments) or punish a party that violates a court order.
Contempt of court rulings and powers are reserved for extreme circumstances, and are only used after a motion from an attorney representing one of the parties involved.
Are Texas Family Court Records Available to the Public?
Texas divorce records are available to the public through state and county resources unless otherwise sealed. Typically only juvenile records and divorce records are sealed or kept from the public, but most family court cases are available unless sealed under Texas Family Code §65.201 which states that sealed records may only be viewed after sealing with permission of the truancy court through a petition of a person who is the subject of the record in question.
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 a 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.
Are Texas Divorce Records Sealed or Public Records?
Texas divorce records are public records unless sealed by court order. However, only parties to a divorce may obtain certified copies of divorce decrees. These divorce records are usually provided by District Clerk’s Offices in various counties of the state. Texas County Clerks accept requests for certified copies of final divorce decrees in person and by mail. Check on the county’s website for a request form and the fees required.
The Texas Vital Statistics Unit provides divorce verification letters upon request. These divorce records are available to anyone and are not substitutes for final divorce decrees. The Vital Statistics Unit can provide verification for all divorces that occurred in Texas since 1968.
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 to Look Up Family Law Cases in Texas
Marriage and Divorce records are available as "verifications” through the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. These are not considered marriage licenses or divorce decrees, and the state “strongly recommends” that interested parties research whether a verification will suit their purposes.
Additional vital records are available for search through local sources, though the Texas Department of Health and Human Services does offer a list of county clerks, registrars and local record issuers through their records website. The facility should be the one that the vital record was created at, and each local district organization sets their own hours of operation, fees, and procedures for requests.
How to Request Texas Family Court Records
Family court records in Texas are largely handled by district courts and county courts. Divorce is considered a matter of family court in Texas, and filings for these types of cases are filed at the nearest District Clerk’s office. Certain types of family cases, such as child support cases, may be handled by a special Child Support Specialty Court, or other Children’s Courts. Depending on which type of family court case is needed, each of these facilities should be contacted regarding the record in question.
Online, divorce and other vital information can be found through the Texas Vital Statistics verification website or through the Report of Divorce or Annulment Indexes at the Texas Department of Health and Human Services website. Dockets for child court can be acquired through Texas Courts Online Child Protection Court Docket webpage.
All options are available online, and offline when specified.
Each requests for Family Court records typically includes the following information:
- A case index or ID number
- The type of record included in the request
- The filing date of the record and the case
- The names of the parties involved
- Any dockets, judgements, or other information pertaining to the case
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.