Where to Find Family Court Records In Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Family Court handles legal matters relating to family and domestic life. Each of the 72 Circuit Courts in the state has a family court division, and officials of these courts maintain and disseminate records created or introduced when the court presides over family cases. Except for when a court order prohibits it, these records are public information, and interested individuals may obtain them from the record’s custodian.
The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records have information that is considered very personal to the parties involved. The court recommends that those parties maintain these records with care to make changes in the future. These records’ nature results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government or third-party, public record websites.
What Is Family Law In Wisconsin?
Family law in Wisconsin is a set of rules that govern how the court handles legal matters such as those related to juvenile issues, child abuse, custody, visitation, child support, divorce, marriage, paternity, etc. Family law also covers the state’s constitution on enforcing judges’ rulings on the matters mentioned above. In Wisconsin, these fall under Chapter 767 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The chapter is further split into subchapters that govern different consequences:
Subchapter IV: Annulment, Divorce, and Legal Separation
Subchapter V: Child Custody, Placement, and Visitation
Subchapter VI: Support and Maintenance
Subchapter VII: Property Division
Subchapter VIII: Enforcement
Subchapter IX: Paternity
What Are Family Court Cases and Records in Wisconsin?
Generally, family court cases involve disputes or issues involving spouse, parents, and children. These cases are typically non-criminal and begin when one or more members of a family seek judicial intervention to enforce their legal rights or obligations from a family member. Upon filing a case, the court will maintain records of all activities that occurred during the litigation. These documents include motions, court transcripts, affidavits, notices, judge’s notes, attorney briefs, as well as final judgment. If any of the parties involved files an appeal, the court will also maintain relevant documents.
Common family court cases in Wisconsin involve:
- Divorce and Annulment: Divorce pertains to the legal dissolution of a legal union and all related matters, including alimony, spousal support, etc. On the other hand, annulment deals with the outright invalidation of a marriage.
- Child Custody and Support: These cases involve court-ordered deferment of physical custody of a child to one parent or both parents (i.e., joint custody) and compelling a non-custodial parent to contribute to the developmental needs of a child.
- Juvenile matters: Family courts also oversee allegations of child abuse, child neglect, or illegal behavior by minors.
- Emancipation: Family courts preside over petitions from underage individuals who seek legal freedom from their parents’ control.
- Domestic Violence: This type of case involves the physical, emotional, or financial abuse of one partner to another. Victims of domestic violence may petition the court for a restraining order against their abusive partners.
Are Family Court Cases Public Records In Wisconsin?
Yes, but this is not absolute. Under the Wisconsin Open Records Law, court records are subject to public perusal unless sealed by court order or statute. Family court records that are exempted from public disclosure are those containing sensitive information and information on minors.
In Wisconsin, divorce records are public information, but the record’s custodian will redact sensitive information such as security or financial identification numbers, settlement amounts, and minors’ names. On the other hand, Wisconsin does not permit public access to paternity and juvenile court cases. Interested requesters may contact the records custodian to access records of interest.
How Do I Find Family Court Records In Wisconsin?
Individuals who wish to inspect or copy physical copies of a family court record must visit the records custodian, in the county where the case was filed, in person, and during business hours. Naturally, records requests are directed to the Clerk of Circuit Court. The Wisconsin Judiciary maintains a directory of the contact information on all Clerks of Courts.
The Clerk of Courts will estimate associated fees, but most Clerks maintain a fee schedule on their official website. Furthermore, the requester must be able to provide essential information to facilitate the search and present a government-issued photo ID upon request. In addition to these, if the requester seeks a sealed record, they must deliver a court order or subpoena. For example, to find a family court record in Richland County, contact:
Richland County Clerk of Circuit Courts
181 West Seminary
Richland Center, WI 53581–2355
Phone: (608) 647–3956
Fax: (608) 647–3911
How Do I Find Family Court Records Online?
As the judiciary transitions to electronic filing of court records, online access is characteristically the fastest way to obtain public records of interest. Generally, requesters have to pay a search fee and other applicable service fees. These records may be obtained from the state’s centralized system or independent service providers.
The Wisconsin judiciary maintains a centralized system for accessing publicly available court records on the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access portal. The Wisconsin Circuit Courts charge $1.25 per page and a certification fee of $5.00. Interested requesters may consult the fee schedule for more information. To use this portal, take the following steps:
- Visit the WCCA portal
- Switch to Advance search mode by clicking “Search” in the navigation bar
- Provide the name of the party involved
- Select the county where the case was filed
- Provide the case number (this narrows the search down)
- Select “Family” as Case type
- Use the Filing Date and Class Code to narrow the search.
Records that are considered public may also be accessible from some third-party websites such as StateRecords.org. These websites often make searching less complicated, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record of the person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that the person resides in or where the offense occurred.
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
What Is Wisconsin Custody Law?
Wisconsin Custody Law oversees the assignment of legal custody and physical placement of a minor in the event of a divorce, legal separation, annulment, or paternity dispute. Under Statute 767.41, a parent who has legal custody is primarily responsible for the child’s upbringing and has the right to make significant decisions concerning a child.
Likewise, Wisconsin Custody Laws make provisions for alternating periods of physical placement with one or both parents. Generally, the court decides placement based on the child’s best interest for physical, social, and emotional development. In either case, the court weighs factors such as geographic location, the standard of living of both parents, etc.
While the court may not deny physical placement based on the parent’s failure to make child support or maintenance payments, the court may deny custody or placement if a parent has a history of domestic abuse, substance abuse, or criminal lifestyle. In this case, a parent may file for a restraining order.
While custody agreements are generally open to the public, documents containing sensitive information, identifying information on the juvenile, and private custody agreements are restricted, redacted, or sealed. Otherwise, participants of a custody case may petition the court to seal or redact a court record by citing privacy or security concerns that outweigh the public’s right to access such records.
How To Find Family Court Lawyers In Wisconsin
Wisconsin State Bar provides Lawyer Referral & Information Service to interested individuals. To get started, the individual must call (800) 362–9082 or submit an online request. A search will connect the requester with a legal referral specialist who will match the party with a family court lawyer depending on the case’s nature.