Virginia Family Court Records
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What Are Virginia Family Court Records?
Virginia Family Court records are documents generated during trials and hearings of family, domestic relations, and juvenile matters in Virginia courts. These documents provide records of cases, processes, and events handled by these courts. They include case files and dockets as well as orders, petitions, and agreements brought before or issued by the court.
What Is a Family Court in Virginia?
Family law matters are handled by the Circuit Courts in Virginia. These are general jurisdiction courts that handle a wide range of civil and criminal cases. There are 31 Circuit Courts all over the Commonwealth. Virginia also has Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts. These are trial courts with limited jurisdiction. There are 32 of these courts in the Commonwealth and they hear cases involving minors and families. Their jurisdiction covers the following types of cases:
- Juvenile delinquency
- Status offenses
- Child abuse and neglect
- Child custody, visitation, and support
- Spousal support
- Domestic abuse
Virginia Circuit Court handle family law cases involving:
How to serve Family Court Papers in Virginia
Before commencing legal action in a family law case in Virginia, the plaintiff must serve the defendant initial court papers and return a proof of service. The Commonwealth of Virginia does not permit plaintiffs to serve initial court papers in their own cases. Individuals eligible to serve Family Court papers must not be involved or associated with the cases described in those documents.
Who Can Serve Family Court Papers in Virginia?
Virginia allows any individual needing to serve court papers to do so using the services of:
a Sheriff or a comparable local police officer
Anyone aged 18 or older who is not involved in the case or interested in its outcome
Virginia law allows individuals to serve court papers using the following methods:
- Personal service through hand-delivery of court documents by a Sheriff, a local law enforcement officer, or a third-party aged 18 or older
- Service by Registered Mail
- Service by Publication
Besides these methods, the defendant may also voluntarily pick up those papers from the Court Clerk’s Office and sign for them. This is only possible when both parties involved in the case agree to the arrangement.
When sending court papers by mail, copies must also be posted on the defendant’s door. Mailed copies must be sent by first-class mail and the recipient sign for them upon delivery.
Service by Publication is a last resort and, before approving this option, Virginia courts require plaintiffs to demonstrate that they diligently tried to serve the papers. The court must also be convinced that the newspaper chosen for publication circulates in the community where the defendant lives.
What Is Contempt of Court in Family Court in Virginia?
In Virginia, a contempt of court is defined as an act of disrespect for the court or its processes. It can also describe an obstruction of the court’s administration of justice. Virginia recognizes both civil and criminal contempt in family law cases. A criminal contempt is punished with a fine and/or jail time. Punishment for civil contempt is conditional. While it may also involve a fine and/or jail time, the fine amount and length of incarceration depend on the individual found to be in contempt of court. The person held in contempt may purge their contempt by complying with the court order, judgement, or agreement the court ruled they violated.
Contempt of Family Court in Virginia may also be direct or constructive. Direct contempt occurs in the presence of the judge and in court while constructive contempt occurs out of court and in the absence of a judge.
The most common reasons for contempt of Family Court in Virginia are:
- Refusal to pay child and/or spousal support
- Not complying with visitation schedule set out in divorce settlements
- Withholding assets granted to the other party in a divorce
Virginia requires the person bringing the charge of contempt of court to demonstrate that the other party:
- Knew about the order/agreement violated
- Was aware that their action or inaction would constitute a violation
- Had the means to avoid being in contempt
Are Virginia Family Court Records Available to the Public?
Yes. The records of family law cases tried in the state’s Circuit Courts are available to the public. Unless sealed by the court, anyone can inspect and copy these records. Access to most juvenile court records is, however, restricted. Virginia courts prevent the public from accessing records that may compromise the privacy of minors. Publicly accessible Family Court records in Virginia include:
- Pleadings and motions of the parties involved in domestic relations cases
- Evidences introduced during trial
- Transcripts of hearings
- Unsealed mental health evaluations
- Orders and decisions of the court
How to Look Up Family Law Cases in Virginia
The Virginia Judicial System hosts the records of all Circuit Courts in the Commonwealth, except for the Circuit Courts of Fairfax and Alexandria, on its website. To search for a family law case heard at a Virginia Circuit Court, start by visiting the Virginia Courts Case Information page. Select the Circuit Court where the case was heard from the drop-down list. On the next page, choose the Civil Division option and provide the following details:
- Name of one of the parties involved
- Case number
- Hearing date
It is also possible to view Virginia family law cases at the various courthouses. Start by visiting the Circuit Court website to find the address of the Clerk of Court. Call ahead to enquire about the availability of records and when they are available for viewing.
The records of Virginia Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts are restricted. Only the juveniles described in those records, their parents/legal guardians, and their legal representatives may access these records. Public access to juvenile records requires court order.
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 Virginia divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.
Are Virginia Divorce Records Open to the Public?
By default, court records describing divorce cases are available to the public in Virginia. Some of these records may be sealed by the court. Virginia requires both parties involved to request the sealing of divorce records and provide ample justification for doing so. Judges then weigh the possible harm to the individuals involved by keeping these records in public domain against the need for transparency and the public’s rights to court records. Virginia Circuit Courts are likely to seal records describing the identities of minors and those containing sensitive financial information.
The Office of Vital Records of the Virginia Department of Health provides a different kind of divorce records. These records are only available to the parties involved as well as their immediate family members. However, divorce records maintained by the Vital Records Office become public information 25 years after the events recorded.
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 Request Virginia Family Court Records
Requests for Virginia Family Court records go to Circuit Court Clerk’s Offices in the courthouses where those cases were heard. Visit the webpage of the Circuit Court on the Virginia Judicial System website to find the contact information of the Clerk’s Office. Alternatively, visit the website of the city or county where the Circuit Court is located and navigate to the section reserved for the Clerk’s Office. Call the Clerk’s Office to ask about obtaining copies of family law case records. Most Virginia counties accept mail and in-person requests. Requesters must also include self-addressed envelopes and copy fees with mail requests. Virginia Circuit Court Clerk’s Offices have different rates for plain and certified copies of court records.