What Are Illinois Family Court Records?
Illinois Family Court records describe the proceedings and outcomes of domestic relations matters brought before Family Courts in the state. Besides dockets and case files, these records include orders, assessments, agreements, and petitions prepared by these courts.
What Is a Family Court in Illinois?
Family Courts in Illinois are divisions of Circuit Courts. They have jurisdiction over domestic relations issues and family matters. Circuit Court Clerks maintain the records of Illinois Family Courts. Besides hearing cases and petitions, Family Courts in Illinois also provide ancillary services such as family parenting and mediation programs and domestic violence prevention councils. The jurisdiction of Illinois Family Court includes:
- Custody and visitation
- Child support
- Juvenile abuse, neglect, and delinquency
- Spousal support
- Domestic abuse
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Illinois
Individuals filing lawsuits in Illinois Family Courts must serve defendants summons. A summons is a court document notifying the recipient of a pending lawsuit involving them. The court requires the suing party to properly serve the defendant’s initial court papers. Failure to do so will lead to the dismissal of the case. The served individual must also appear in court within 30 days or they will automatically lose the case.
Illinois allows suing parties to serve court documents in three ways:
- Hand delivery via personal service
- Service by certified mail
- Service by publication
Illinois laws do not allow the suing party to serve court papers themselves. Rather, they must hire a third-party not involved with, and not affected by the outcome of the case to do so. The server must also be 18 years of age or older.
Who Can Serve Family Court Papers in Illinois?
In Illinois, there are three types of approved designated servers of court papers. These are:
Professional process servers
In small Illinois counties, sheriffs are the ones usually hired to serve Family Court papers. The suing party may contract the task to a private investigator certified, registered, and licensed to operate in the county. Before serving court papers with a professional process server, the plaintiff must ask a judge for permission. This is done by filing a Motion for Appointment of Special Process Server with a Family Court.
Regardless of the server used, Illinois courts recognize two ways to serve court papers in person. The server may:
- Hand over the documents to the defendant personally at home, work, or any location
- Giving the documents to someone who lives with the defendant as long as they are at least 13 years old
Once service is completed, the server must file a document with the court confirming the service and state where, when, and how they served the papers. When serving court papers by certified mail, the defendant must obtain a proof of receipt and file this with the court.
Service by publication in a newspaper is only allowed after the suing party demonstrates to the court that their hired server tried to serve the documents repeatedly but failed. The plaintiff must also show the court that the defendant lives in the area served by the selected publication.
What Is Contempt of Family Court in Illinois?
The most common reasons for contempt of court in Illinois Family Courts are violations of court orders and refusal to comply with court rulings. This is especially true for divorce cases and child support arrangements. In family law cases, there is direct contempt and indirect contempt of court. A direct contempt is a contemptuous conduct witnessed by the judge while an indirect contempt is one that occurs outside the courtroom. Because direct contempt happens in the courtroom, the judge does not require the other party to establish the contempt and can summarily punish it.
In cases of indirect contempt, the aggrieved party must demonstrate that the contemptuous party willfully disobeyed a Family Court order or ruling, is aware of the order/ruling, and has the capacity to comply with the order/ruling. Notice of contempt hearing must also be served to the party accused of contemptuous conduct.
In addition to possible fines and other punishments, Illinois requires individuals found in contempt of Family Court orders and judgements to pay the attorney fees of the litigants in these cases.
Are Illinois Family Court Records Available to the Public?
Yes. The records of the Family Divisions of Illinois Circuit Courts are available to anyone for inspection and copying. However, state law restricts access to certain Family Court records. These include all juvenile records and adoption records. The court may restrict access to specific records if the parties involved successfully petition to seal those records. Sealed records are only accessible to parties to those cases, their legal representatives, and third parties with court orders authorizing the release of those specific records.
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 Illinois?
Illinois divorce records are public unless otherwise sealed. Members of the public can view divorce records online or at Circuit Court Clerk Offices. To obtain copies of divorce court records, they must submit formal requests providing the following information:
- Full names of the parties involved in the divorce
- Maiden names, if applicable
- Date and location of divorce
- Personal information of the requester
Circuit Clerks charge for copies of divorce records. Note that only plain copies of divorce records are available to the public. Certified copies of divorce records are only provided to those involved in those divorces or those provide court orders authorizing access to those records.
How to Look Up Family Law Cases in Illinois
To view details on an ongoing or concluded Family Court case, visit the website of the Circuit Court Clerk in the county where the case was held. Illinois Circuit Court Clerks provide online access to court records on their website. Look for the link to the Online Court Case Search. Follow this link and select Family Division (or a similar category) to search for family law cases.
Members of the public can also search for court records in person at the Clerks’ Offices. Find the address to the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office in the county where the case was held. Check the website to see the office’s business hours and other requirements needed for search and copy court records. While it is not important to make an appointment before visiting the Clerk’s Office, you may call ahead to confirm that the office has the court records you need available.
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.
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 to Request Family Court Records in Illinois
Individuals seeking copies of Family Court records in Illinois must visit the appropriate Circuit Clerk’s Offices in the counties where those cases were heard. Generally, Illinois Circuit Court Clerks accept in-person and mail requests for Family Court records.
To request court records by mail, you may need to download a Record Request Form from the Clerk’s website. Send the completed form, along with requested identification and fees to the Clerk’s Office. Section 27.2a of the Illinois Clerk’s Act (705 ILCS 105/27.2a) establishes statutory fees payable by those requesting court records. These include search, copying, and certification fees. Most counties require requesters to pay with checks and money orders for mail requests for Family Court records. These payment instruments must be made payable to the Clerk of the Circuit Court.