What Are Georgia Family Court Records?
Georgia Family Court records are the official documents prepared during the proceedings of family law cases in Georgia State Courts. These documents include dockets, case files, court orders, and final judgements. Court-ordered assessments, mediated agreements, and petitions submitted by defendants are also Family Court records.
What Is a Family Court in Georgia?
Georgia Family Court is a division of its Superior Court. This court handles family and domestic relations issues and has jurisdiction over such cases involving couples, parents, minors, and the elderly. The types of cases determined by Georgia Family Courts include:
- Domestic abuse
- Spousal support
- Child support and child custody
- Juvenile delinquency
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Georgia
When filing a family law case in Georgia, state laws and court rules demand that the opposing party must copy the papers filed at the court. Georgia Family Court accepts several methods of serving court papers. The four most commonly used service methods are:
- Acknowledgement of Service
- Personal Service
- Service by Publication
- Service by Certified Mail
Acknowledgement of Service is the easiest way to serve family law papers in Georgia. However, it requires that the defendant agree to take court papers from the individual filing the case. After getting served, the defendant must sign an Acknowledgement of Service form in the presence of a Notary Public. The party bringing the suit must then file the original copies of court papers and this form with the Clerk of the Superior Court where the case was filed.
Personal Service is the most commonly used option. It is recommended when the opposing party does not agree to delivery by Acknowledgement of Service. Personal Service involves delivery by a third party not involved in the case. Georgia approves Sheriffs and Private Process Servers for Personal Service.
If the named defendant in a family law case does not live and has never lived in Georgia, then the suing party may serve Georgia Family Court paper by publication. Service by Publication is also an option if the plaintiff does not know the address of the defendant but can confirm that they live in the area covered by the chosen publication. The party serving the papers must first notify the court about choosing this option. Georgia court expects the party bringing the case to demonstrate that they have diligently tried to locate and serve the defendant but failed to do so.
Service by certified mail is the least used option in Georgia. It requires sending a copy of the papers to the defendant by certified/registered mail. The defendant must also sign and return a certificate of service that the plaintiff needs to fill with the Clerk of the Superior Court.
What Is Contempt of Family Court in Georgia?
Contempt of Family Court usually involves one party violating a court order. Violations of juries’ verdicts, judges’ decrees, and agreements certified by the court are also regarded as contempt. Generally, only civil contempt results from family law cases. The court must find that the person held in contempt was aware of the order/judgement/agreement violated and willfully contravened it. Common examples of violations resulting in contempt of Family Court in Georgia are failure to:
- Pay alimony or child support
- Follow child custody and visitation orders
- Transfer property to the other party in a divorce
- Pay the other party’s attorney fees as instructed by the court
If the court finds an individual in contempt, it can impose any combination of sanctions including fines, ordering the offending individual to pay owed money, and even jail time.
Are Georgia Family Court Records Available to the Public?
Yes. Like other courts in the state, Family Court records are accessible by anyone unless sealed by court order. The public can access docket information, hearing records, case files, trial transcripts, and orders and judgements of the court. Family Court judges may decide to make certain juvenile records confidential. Some judges make juvenile proceedings closed sessions. However, Family Court cases like juvenile felony trials and child support hearings are always open to the public.
The parties involved in a family law case may petition the court to seal all or part of the records of the trial. Georgia Family Court judges weigh the need to keep such cases sealed against the duty to provide public access to these records. Third parties can only access sealed records by presenting court orders.
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 Divorce Records Public or Sealed in Georgia?
By default, divorce records are public records in Georgia. Anyone can search through these records to see details of divorces finalized in the state. Some documents may not be available in publicly accessible divorce records. For example, Family Courts in Georgia usually agree to seal records containing private personal and proprietary business information of the parties involved in divorces.
Individuals who want their divorce records sealed must request the court to seal them. Such requests are only likely to be granted if the parties submitting these requests can demonstrate that actual harm resulted from putting the information in the public domain.
How to Look Up Family Law Cases in Georgia
Details of ongoing and concluded family law cases in Georgia are available online. The Judicial Council of Georgia hosts separate electronic access portals to the records of the various courts in the state. Find the Superior Court where the family law case was heard on the E-Access page on the Council’s website. To access the online portal, users have to register and then log into their accounts.
The public can also view Family Court cases at Superior Court locations all over the state. Visit the Superior Court where the family law case was filed and go to the Clerk’s Office. Depending on the county, the Clerk’s Office may allow members of the public to see paper records or have computer terminals where electronic copies of the records are accessible.
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.
How to Request Family Court Records in Georgia
To obtain Family Court records in Georgia, contact the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the case was heard. Visit the website of the Clerk’s Office to learn its address and other details about obtaining Family Court records. Clerk’s Offices may choose to accept requests for court records one or more of the following methods: online, in person, by mail, and by phone. Note that Georgia Superior Court Clerks charge nominal fees for searching and copying family court records.
The Clerk’s Office may not have old records available. For example, Georgia Superior Court Clerks only provide records for divorces that took place after August 1996. Those looking for older divorce records must contact the Georgia Office of Vital Records. This office maintains records of divorces finalized in the state between June 1952 to August 1996.
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.