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What are Wisconsin Family Court Records?
Wisconsin family court records are official documents containing information regarding claims, complaints and suits filed in/heard by family courts within the jurisdiction of the state of Wisconsin. These records include details of family-related case proceedings, including court actions, filed motions, and court orders as well as judgments and decrees made regarding these cases. In general, family court records in Wisconsin may be made available to interested and eligible persons upon request. However, in order to access a family court record, the requesting party may be required to meet some eligibility requirements which may be unique to the record custodian.
What Cases are Heard by Wisconsin Family Courts?
Family courts in Wisconsin operate as divisions of the state circuit courts which are situated in Wisconsin’s 10 judicial administrative districts. The family divisions were established to handle all actions affecting families within the jurisdiction of the state, including marriages, divorces, legal separation, alimony child custody, visitation and support as well as property division, wills and trusts, and paternity.
In the state of Wisconsin, family court records are generated and disseminated by the office of the clerk of courts of each of the 249 circuit courts in the state. Where the verdict of a family court case appealed at an appellate court or the Wisconsin Supreme Court the most record of interest (containing the court’s most recent verdict) will likely be maintained and disseminated by the administrative division of the court.
What is included in Wisconsin Family Court Records?
While family court records are typically designed to contain general case information and details of court proceedings, the information contained in Wisconsin family court records generally varies depending on the case and the record custodian. Generally, however, family court records contain information such as the personal details and contact information of the parties involved as well as the trial transcripts including court actions and motion arguments.
Depending on the case, family court records may also include details of financial entitlements issued to either party such as child support, alimony, and estate division during the divorce. The conditions for child custody or visitation, legal separations, restraining orders, and other related concerns are usually included in the record if applicable. Thus, along with the court’s final verdict, any penalties relating to the case are usually included. This is including jail terms and community service sentences which typically are issued when an individual is held in contempt of the court.
Are Family Court Records Public in Wisconsin?
Under Wisconsin’s open records law, most court records are accessible to interested members of the public without extended protocol. Wisconsin Statutes recognize that the management and dissemination of judicial records are part of the administrative duties of the state’s various courts and as such, family court records can be obtained from designated custodians. However, while most records are public information, the right of public access to family court records is not absolute. As such, custodians are not requested to fulfill requests for records which have been deemed confidential or sealed by court order. The following confidential court case information which is not accessible to the public:
- The personal information and contact information of minors, juvenile delinquents and other selected persons
- The personal information of domestic violence victims as well as victims of other forms of abuse
- The physical and psychological evaluations of most persons—usually the plaintiff
- All records presented as evidence by the state department of human services and medical personnel.
- Most financial details presented during court proceedings including inventories of property, social security information, credit card numbers, and related data.
Where the information or record required is confidential or sealed, the requesting party must obtain the required legal authority to access the information. This may be a court order /subpoena or a written statement from the subject(s) authorizing the requestor to view the record of interest. Given these requirements, confidential information is generally not available through online resources. Requests for these records may only be made directly to the record custodian in the courthouse where the case was filed/heard.
How Do I Get Family Court Records in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin family court records can be accessed using a variety of resources made available by the state judiciary. While some requestors may opt to use the online repositories at no cost, persons requiring authenticated/certified copies of these records may obtain them by querying the record custodian in person or via mail. However, most records accessible electronically may be copied/viewed without any permission. Essentially, interested members of the public may view and/or obtain copies of Wisconsin family court records by:
- Using state-managed public-access online resources
- Making in-person queries to the record custodian
- Sending mail-in requests to the courthouse where the case was filed/heard.
- Using third-party aggregation websites
How to Obtain Wisconsin Family Court Records Online
The state of Wisconsin operates three major central online repositories with which interested members of the public can obtain court records online. This includes:
- Wisconsin Circuit Court Access: This provides public access to the court records of Wisconsin circuit courts.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Case Access: with which interested persons can view the status of cases filed in the state appellate courts.
- Table of Pending Cases: which serves as an index of cases currently pending in the state Supreme Court.
Given that family-related cases are the jurisdiction of the state circuit courts, most family court records can be obtained using the WCCA tool. However, where the verdict of the case is being appealed, the court case information may be viewed using the WSCCA.
To obtain records from either of the aforementioned repositories, the user must furnish the search tools available on the system with the information required to facilitate the search. For the WCCA tool, this will include the full name and birthdate of either plaintiff or defendant, the county in which the case was filed and the case number of the record of interest. Similarly, users of the WSCCA will be required to provide the appeal number and circuit court case number of the record as well as the attorney name, filing date and the most current case status (along with the information required by the WCCA). Where the full information is not known, some search parameters may be replaced by the wildcard symbol. However, partial information regarding the case or record must, at least, be provided.
Most family court records may be accessed using these online tools. However, pursuant to Wisconsin statutes, all information deemed confidential and those sealed by court order will not be obtained on publicly accessible platforms. To request confidential information, persons who meet the eligibility of the state may make in-person requests to the record custodian.
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 Wisconsin divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.
How to Make in-person Requests for Wisconsin Family Records
Persons seeking to access full court case information which may include confidential or sealed records are advised to make in-person requests to the office of the record custodian. The record custodian is typically the office of the Clerk of Courts of the courthouse where the case was filed/heard.
Locate the Record Custodian
To request a family court record in person, the requesting party must locate the court in which the case was filed, heard or appealed to. Typically, the family division of the circuit court in each judicial district serves as the custodian family court records. However, where a judgment has been appealed at any appellate courts or the state supreme court, it is likely that the record is domiciled in the administrative arm of the court.
Prepare the Requirements
Upon confirming the location of the record custodian, requestors are advised to contact the courthouse regarding any record retrieval requirements unique to that jurisdiction. In most cases, requestors will be required to provide information such as the full name of the parties involved in the suit as well as the case file number of the record and the place and date on which the suit was filed. Depending on the requested record, there may be a few additional requirements such as a court subpoena (if the record contains confidential information), written permissions from the subject(s) of the record authorizing the requestor to access the record and a government-issued photo ID or any alternative identifying documents.
Make the Request
Before visiting a courthouse to request a record, the requesting party may be required to schedule an appointment with the record custodian beforehand. In some cases, requestors will be required to complete a request form in which the information required for facilitating a search will be indicated, as well as the personal information of the requesting party. Where the required document is a public record, requestors may proceed to self-serve using the court’s public terminals. If not, record searches will be performed by court staff, following which the requestor will be charged a standard search/copy fee (if applicable).
Publicly available records are also 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 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.
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 Access Wisconsin Family Court Records via Mail
Depending on the record of interest and the authority of the requesting party, Wisconsin family court records may also be requested via mail. To obtain family court records via mail, the requesting party is required to prepare a written request indicating any information required to facilitate record search. Written requests must state relevant details of the record required including the record type required, the full name(s) of the parties involved, the date and place the case was filed and the case file number of the record.
Requestors are advised to contact the record custodian for information regarding any unique record retrieval requirements for jurisdiction. In most cases, the requestor may also be required to enclose the written request along with a cheque or money order payment for any indicated fees, as well as a copy of a government-issued photo-ID, and self-addressed envelope for delivering the requested records to the requesting party.
How to Obtain Wisconsin Adoption Records
While Wisconsin adoption records are generally confidential, the state statutes allow selected persons to access these records. The persons eligible to access adoption records in Wisconsin include:
- The birth parents of the adopted individual
- The adoptive parents
- Adult adoptees
- Adoptees whose birth parents terminated their parental rights (when the adoptee was a minor)
- Offspring of adoptees.
The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families through its Adoption Records Search Program allows adoptees to obtain information regarding their birth and their blood relatives. The information available through this program includes non-identifying social details, medical and medical history and relevant genetic information of birth families, the personal and contact information of birth parents as well as any impounded birth certificates. To request adoption records search from the state DCF, interested and eligible persons are required to download and complete the Adoption Search Application form. The completed application along with any other indicated requirements should be delivered to:
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families
Adoption Records Search Program
P. O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53708–8916
How Do I Access Divorce Records in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Vital Records Office maintains divorce records going back to October 1907. These records are also available through the Register of Deeds offices in various counties of the state, while records of divorce court proceedings are available in the office of the clerk of courts in the court where the decree was issued.
Requests for divorce records to the Vital Records Office of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DPH) can be made in person or via mail. While in-person requests simply require that the requesters visit the vital records office during official working hours, mail-in requests can be made by downloading and completing the Wisconsin Divorce Certificate Application. The completed form should be enclosed along with any indicated ID requirements and fees and delivered to: