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Rhode Island Court Records

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How Does the Rhode Island Family Court Work?

Rhode Island Family Courts are alternative courts set up to tackle problems related to children and families. These courts have goals that revolve around the assistance, protection, and restoration of families with issues that jeopardize general well-being and family solidarity.

Generally, family unity and child welfare are essential factors to Rhode Island Family Courts. However, a Family Court may prioritize the child’s safety and comfort over family solidarity. If a Family Court has reason to believe a child might be mistreated or abused by family members, the court may separate the child from the family. Note that the court must provide adequate care and comfort in such cases, equivalent to what the child may have received within the family.

Family Courts may exercise jurisdiction over family matters, including domestic relations and juvenile cases. Domestic relations cases may include issues around legal separation and divorce. For divorce cases, Rhode Island Family Courts also decide disputes on paternity and division of property. If the couple has children, cases may also include child visitation and child custody.

Note that in some cases, Family courts may hear a limited range of criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases may include neglect, abandonment, desertion, and threats directed at family members. Actions that advance a minor’s delinquency may also be treated as a criminal case and heard by Family Courts. Aggrieved parties may appeal Family Court rulings to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The jurisdiction of Family Courts covers matters related to children. This jurisdiction caters to child delinquency, waywardness, dependency, abuse, neglect, and mental deficiency. Family Courts may also extend this jurisdiction past negative child behavior to child marriages, paternity and adoptions.

A Rhode Island Family Court has one chief judge, eleven associate justices, one general magistrate, and eight magistrates. All judges are appointed through a merit system, by the Rhode Island governor.

Appointing a judge to a Rhode Island Family Court begins with the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). When there is a judicial vacancy, the JNC puts public advertisements in media platforms such as state newspapers. Interested and qualified persons may apply for the position following the rules provided by the JNC. The Commission then reviews all received applications, seeks public opinion on the choices, and conducts background checks on prospective judges. After the screening process, the JNC will create a list of up to five names for each vacancy and send the names to the governor. The governor may then select a candidate to fill the vacancy. However, the governor’s selected candidate must receive confirmation from the Rhode Island Senate before resuming judicial duty. Note that all judges serve lifetime terms.

Family Court Administrator

Family Courts also have Family Court Administrators under the authority and supervision of the chief judge. The administrator’s function is to create procedures used in administering court services. Some of these functions also extend to fiscal management, training, court personnel supervision, and collecting court statistics to prepare the court’s annual report. Also, the Family Court Administrator functions as the court clerk and is responsible for the court registry and collection of all fees and fines. As a clerk, the administrator also maintains Family Court records and seals and may appoint assistant clerks, deputy clerks, and clerical assistants. However, these appointments must be made with the chief judge’s assent.

Juvenile Services Department

Rhode Island Family Courts have Juvenile Services Departments. The department receives all complaints about delinquent or wayward minors that may have committed a state, city, or town violation. Upon each complaint, the Juvenile Services Department conducts a preliminary investigation to confirm the claims’ accuracy. The investigation determines whether there is enough reason to bring the child into the court’s jurisdiction. Even when there is sufficient reason to do so, the Juvenile Services Department needs to further determine if any action taken would be in the interest of the child or the general public.

The Juvenile Services Department has an Assistant Intake Supervisor responsible for deciding whether filed a complaint qualifies for diversion, which is a non-judicial approach to the case. If an alleged offense is not considered serious and the accused does not have multiple petitions filed against them, the person will be scheduled for an Intake Conference. The juvenile must attend the Intake Conference to go over the complaints with parents or guardians. The conference also itemizes the juvenile’s constitutional rights and specific conditions required to deliver a non-judicial disposition. Note that the Intake Supervisor will not consider a non-judicial disposition if the juvenile does not admit involvement in the offense. This disposition will also not be used if the conditions are not agreeable to the juvenile and the person’s parents or guardians.

Before making any decision, the court will consider certain factors. These factors may include the juvenile’s age, the nature and sophistication of the offense, impact on any victims of the crime, and previous encounters with law enforcement.

Child Protective Services

The Rhode Island Family Court also provides Child Protective Services through its Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA). This program uses a unique method to promote the best interests of children who have been neglected or abused. The CASA uses a team of full-time staff attorneys and social workers to cater to these children’s needs.

Through the CASA, Family Courts carry out investigations by conducting home visits. The CASA also contacts service providers involved in a case to promote child protection and safety. Because of its large caseload, the CASA also invites volunteers to help with home visits and other efforts at caring for affected minors.

Access to Family Court case information is available to interested members of the public. Courthouses provide computer terminals where requestors may find these records in person. To find records, interested persons must provide information on the desired cases.

Requestors may also gain remote access to case information via the Rhode Island Judiciary Public Portal. For access to this portal, requestors must email the Judicial Technology Center (JTC). Note that a request form and signed agreement must be attached to the email. While general case information may be accessible to the public, confidential documents and sealed records may be partially or entirely unavailable.

Interested persons may also contact or visit the specific Family Court using the information listed below:

Providence and Bristol Counties Family Court 

J. Joseph Garrahy Judicial Complex

1 Dorrance Plaza

Providence, RI 02903

Phone: Domestic Clerk’s Office: (401) 458–3200 

Phone: Juvenile Clerk’s Office: (401) 458–3290

Washington County Family Court

J. Howard McGrath Judicial Complex

4800 Tower Hill Road

Suite 196

Wakefield, RI 02879

Phone: (401) 782–4111

Newport County Family Court

45 Washington Square

Newport, RI 02840

Phone: (401) 841–8340

Kent County Family Court

222 Quaker Lane

Warwick, RI 02886

Phone: (401) 822–6725


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