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Rhode Island Court Records

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What are Family Court Records?

Family court records are all documents, filings, and general materials that are introduced, created or maintained as part of a case in a family court. The records could include the court’s official documents, court minutes or audio recordings. Rhode Island family court records also consist of evidence related to the case, including written papers, other recordings, photographs and any other piece of information relevant to the case.

What is a family court in Rhode Island?

The Rhode Island Family Court is the institution responsible in the state for handling all problems and disputes as they may relate to families and children. It was set up by an Act which eventually became law on June 3, 1961. While the Rhode Island Family Court attends to different case types, the Court also renders a service that caters specifically to children, called the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA focuses on vulnerable children who have come to be neglected or abused. The Rhode Island Family Court comprises 1 Chief Judge, 11 Associate Justices, 1 General Magistrate, and 8 Magistrates.

What Cases are heard by Family Courts?

Family courts are limited jurisdiction courts and, as such, only have the authority to sit and pass judgment for a limited range of cases. The cases handled by family courts are usually domestic and are focused on issues within families, especially between spouses and children. Cases under the Rhode Island Family Court’s jurisdiction range from divorce between spouses to specific childcare.

  • Divorce: For divorce, the Family Court has the authority to hear and conclude any official petitions that desire the dissolution of a marriage. Apart from the particular divorce proceedings, the court shall also hear all motions and decide on cases regarding sharing co-owned property, alimony payments, and even spousal support after the proceedings have been concluded.
  • Childcare: For child care as might be related to divorce, the court will hear all related petitions and will decide what is best for the child. This includes deciding custody—whether shared or sole—and child support as well.a

Child care cases in Family Court are however not limited to children that might be affected by separating or divorcing parents. The Court will also hear cases on children who are considered wayward, abused, abandoned or children who have mental deficiencies and might require special care. Other cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Family Court include juvenile-related issues such as adoption, disputes regarding paternity, and child marriages. Rhode Island Family Court provides a free Mediation Program, which is designed to help quarreling parties reach an agreement that will be unanimously considered fair and beneficial. The program promises a safe, fair, and private setting where this mediation will take place. The mediation program also considers children’s needs, as might be required.

How to Serve Family Court Papers In Rhode Island

Serving family court papers begins with filing an official complaint at the Clerk’s office. This process requires the complainant to submit four documents beginning with the complaint. The documents are as follows:

  • Complaint: This document basically lays out the claims or disputes that the complainant has with the defendant. The complainant is also expected to state here if there are claims against more than one defendant. The document must also be properly typed and written in English with a few requirements as stated by the District of Rhode Island including the complainant’s original signature.
  • Civil Cover Sheet: The civil cover sheet also contains information about the case being initiated. This must be submitted along with the aforementioned complaint and is used by the Court for its official processes.
  • Filing Fee: Filing a complaint requires a compulsory filing fee of $400. This fee is to be paid to the clerk’s office to proceed with the case. Rhode Island, however, offers an alternative. A complainant can initiate a case without paying the fee, by submitting an Application to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (IFP). The three-page IFP form requires the complainant to provide the court with specific information that may help their motion to skip the fee. After the form is filled and submitted, the application will be assessed by a Magistrate Judge and if granted, the filing fee will be waived for the complainant.b
  • Summons: The summons is another document that must accompany the filing. This document contains information that notifies the defendant about the plaintiff’s case, and requires said defendant to provide a time-sensitive response to the court about the plaintiff. The form allows 21 days for a defendant’s response, excluding the day the person(s) received it. If the defendant is a United States officer or employee and the complaint is somehow related to their duties while in service, the timeframe is extended to 60 days. The complainant must fill the summons form and have it dated and signed by the Clerk’s Office, or it will be considered invalid. However, before it is signed and dated, the plaintiff must have either paid the filing fee or received an order from a Magistrate Judge, granting an IFP as described above.

Rhode Island also requires that the case title on the complaint must match the caption used for the summons.

Who Can Serve Family Court Papers in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, Family Court papers can be served by a few people. They could be served by a sheriff of the county where the case was initiated, or by the sheriff’s deputy. Papers can also be served by a professional process server like a qualified constable.

The state, however, does not compulsorily require professional service and will allow anyone who is 18 years of age or above, to serve the defendant(s). However, the person must not be related to the case in any way. Note: the state does not allow the complainant to serve the defendant(s) personally.

What is Contempt of Court in Family Law in Rhode Island?

Contempt of Court in Rhode Island family law is any action taken by either the complainant or the defendant, which seeks to disrupt the court proceedings as the case progresses. A person can also be charged with contempt of court if they deliberately disobey any order(s) the court has issued. This means that if the case has been concluded and an order has been issued but has not been followed by the person it was issued to, the other party can file a contempt motion with the court. Following this, a hearing will be conducted and if the charged person is found guilty and cannot give good reason for their failure to perform, the judge could order a heavier sanction.

According to the Section 10–1–10 of the State of Rhode Island Courts and Civil Procedure in Particular Actions, any party found guilty of contempt of court will be asked to pay a fine. This fine will be set at a minimum of $50 and a maximum of $100. The judge could also imprison the offender for a minimum of 3 months or a maximum of 6 months.

Are Family Court Records Public In Rhode Island?

The state allows public access to family court records. By default, anybody interested in family court records will be allowed to view them as far as the law allows. Public records include the identities of the concerned litigants, dates of court hearings, court calendars, specific information about the court’s processes, minutes and motions, as well as transcripts.

For some cases, some or all parts of the case could be sealed by the judge and not open to public perusal. This, however, only happens in sensitive cases where the court decides that certain details of the litigants or the case, should be kept private.

Are Rhode Island State Divorce Records Sealed or Public Records?

Rhode Island divorce records are public and can be accessed by anyone. In a few cases, however, these records are sealed by the court for various reasons. Sometimes, specific details of divorce records could put one or both parties in danger. At other times, the records are ordered sealed to protect the identity of someone considered somewhat sensitive or to protect minors that may be affected.

How Do I Find Divorce Records in Rhode Island?

There are two ways to find divorce records in Rhode Island. Firstly, interested persons are free to visit the courthouse - if this is known - to make a request there in person. Secondly, Rhode Island grants online access for anyone seeking information on divorce records. The state Judicial Records Center has a Divorce Record Request Form that can be filled online and submitted. The request is then sent for processing and if approved, access would be granted.

How to Access Family Law Cases in Rhode Island

Rhode Island allows interested parties to access family law cases either in-person from the courthouse, or remotely.

1. Courthouse Access to Case Information

Rhode Island courthouses all have clerks’ offices with computers where anyone interested can view documents regarding family court cases. The information states that all public information can be accessed only within the courthouse’s business timeframe.

2. Remote Access to Case Information

The public also has remote access to information. However, this information is restricted to the register of actions related to specific cases. Any more information required would mean that the interested person would have to visit a courthouse for direct access. Any more access required outside of the scenarios described above would require the interested party to contact the Judicial Technology Center (JTC). Also, all of the access described above does not include any information or documents that have been sealed by court order.

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Rhode Island Family Court Records