What Are Kentucky Family Court Records?
Kentucky Family Court records are the official documentation of the various stages of cases and hearings held at Kentucky state courts handling family law cases and domestic relations matters. These records include case files, transcripts, and dockets as well as orders, motions, petitions, and agreements issued by the Family Court. Like other courts, most Kentucky Family Court records are available to the public. Some records are confidential by default while select ones are sealed by court orders.
What Is a Family Court in Kentucky?
In Kentucky, the Family Court is a division of the Circuit Court. It was first introduced in Jefferson County in 1991. The success of the pilot program led to the establishment of this court in other counties and incorporating it into the state’s constitution. Not every county in the Commonwealth of Kentucky has a Family Court. Only 71 of the 120 counties in the state have a Family Court. This court is mostly found in suburban and rural areas of the state. Circuit and District Courts handle family law cases in counties without Family Courts.
In Kentucky, Family courts handle cases involving:
- Spousal support
- Domestic violence
- Parental rights
- Child custody, visitation, and support
- Juvenile matters including abuse, dependency, neglect, and status offenses
Kentucky Family Courts handle family law matters using a One Family, One Judge, One Court approach. This assigns all family law cases involving one family to one court and one judge. The method makes it easier for families to attend court when resolving different issues. It also ensures the sitting judge knows the full case histories of each family and fully understands their particular situation and needs.
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Kentucky
When initiating legal action in a family law case in a Kentucky Family, Circuit, or District Court, the party bringing the lawsuit must serve initial court papers to the other party named in the suit. Kentucky allows these three methods of serving Family Court papers:
- Acceptance of Service
- Personal Service
- Service by Mail
Acceptance of Service is the easier method. It involves the other party agreeing to pick up the court papers. In most cases, they will collect these documents from the first party’s attorney’s office. The receiving party must sign an Acceptance of Service form that must be filed with the court. This method is only possible when both parties are on good terms. It is a common method of service in uncontested divorces.
Personal Service requires delivering the court papers by hand to the other party or someone of age sharing the residence with them. Kentucky does not allow the party to bring the legal action to serve initial court papers themselves. Rather, they must contract this task to an adult not involved in the case. This is usually a Sheriff’s Deputy, a private investigator, or a Process Server. The server must complete and return a Return of Service form filed with the court clerk as proof of service.
Service by Mail is the next option if the named party cannot be served in person. It involves sending copies of initial court papers to the address of the other party. To guarantee delivery, these documents must be delivered by certified mail including a return receipt. The receiving party signs the receipt and mails it back. This receipt must then be filed with the court clerk.
What Is Contempt of Family Court in Kentucky?
Contempt of court is the willful disobedience of a court order or open disrespect for the rules and authority of the court. Kentucky recognizes both civil and criminal contempt of court. A civil contempt results from a failure to comply with a court order. Examples of civil contempt of Family Court include refusal to pay child/spousal support and not abiding by the visitation rules ordered in a divorce settlement. Kentucky Family Court judges may punish civil contempt by:
- Instructing the violating party to comply with court orders
- Fining the individual held in contempt of court
- Sentencing the individual to jail
Jail terms resulting from civil contempt are meant as deterrents. The individual jailed will be freed upon complying with the court order in question.
Criminal contempt arises from obstruction of justice and open disregard for the court. It can be direct or indirect. Direct criminal contempt occurs in court and requires no additional investigation. The court can summarily punish the individual found in contempt. Indirect criminal contempt occurs outside the court and the contempt may try it separately to ascertain the guilt of the accused party.
Are Kentucky Family Court Records Available to the Public?
Yes. Like other civil court records, records of family law cases in Kentucky are open to the public by default. Therefore, anyone can view and request copies of these records. Kentucky Family, Circuit, and District Court can seal specific family law case records at the behest of one or both parties involved.
A few family and juvenile case records are presumptively closed in Kentucky. Confidential Family Court records include those involving:
- Juvenile delinquency
- Juvenile dependency, abuse, and neglect
- Child custody if the judge deems it necessary to protect the child’s identity and welfare
In Kentucky, guardianship cases involving incompetent and disabled individuals are partially open. The Family Court makes public documents that establish the disability of the individual concerned and court orders modifying this status. Other court records pertaining to such cases are closed to the public.
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.
Does Kentucky Make Divorce Records Public?
Yes. Divorce records are public records in Kentucky and divorce proceedings are presumptively open to the public. The parties involved in a divorce may petition a Family Court to seal some or all of their divorce records. The judge then rules about the merits of the petition and may decide to make the records confidential or leave them in the public domain. Reasons commonly given for sealing divorce records include preventing public access to personal and financial information.
In addition to accessing divorce court records, the state also allows anyone to request divorce certificates from the Vital Statistics Branch of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics maintains divorce records from June 1958 to the present and accepts requests for them made in person, by phone, by mail, and online. To request copies of a publicly available divorce vital record in Kentucky, you must provide the following information:
- Full names of both parties involved in the divorce
- Date of divorce including day, month, and the year it was granted
- County where the divorce was granted
How Do I Access Kentucky Family Court Records?
Members of the public can access the records of Kentucky Family Courts from the search portal of the Kentucky Court of Justice website. Simply search for publicly available records by providing the name of a party involved in the case. You can narrow down the search result by providing extra details such as the county where the case was filed.
Kentucky Public Records law also permits public inspection of Family Court records at the Offices of Circuit Court Clerks in the charge of the records of Family, Circuit, and District Courts. Court clerk offices maintain and provide access to paper and digital copies of court records. Most offices have public access computer terminals. Clerk’s offices provide access to more detailed records.
To locate the office of a Circuit Court Clerk in Kentucky, use the Judicial Directory provided on the website of Kentucky Court of Justice.
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 record 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 Do I Request Family Court Records in Kentucky?
Copies of publicly available Family Court records are provided by Kentucky Circuit Court Clerk’s offices. Contact the clerk’s office in the county where the family law case was filed and heard using the information provided in the Judicial Directory. Call ahead to determine that the records you want are available and to enquire when you can visit to submit a request for them. Most Circuit Court Clerk’s Offices in Kentucky also accept record requests sent by mail. Note that the Office of the Clerk will charge for copies of court records requested.
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.