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What are Delaware Family Court Records?
Delaware Family Court records refer to documents providing details of the proceedings of family law matters heard or tried in State Courts of Delaware. These records are kept and maintained by a Clerk of Court and can be accessed by members of the public.
What is a Family Court in Delaware State?
The Family Court is an independent arm of Delaware’s Court system with exclusive authority over all family and juvenile matters that occur in the state, as authorized by Article VI, Section I of the Delaware constitution. Delaware has a family court in each of its three counties:
- Wilmington, New Castle County
- Georgetown, Sussex County
- Dover, Kent County
The New Castle County serves as the Family Court’s administrative office and the main office of the Chief Judge. Each county has a specific number of judges who preside over family and juvenile cases. The Courthouses have similar structures and functions and operate under certain rules and statutes which guide the cases the Court can handle.
What Cases are Heard by Delaware’s Family Court?
Delaware’s Family Court has original jurisdiction over most civil and criminal cases perpetrated by persons under 18 years of age (juveniles), children, spouses, and persons related by blood or marriage.
The Court does not handle certain cases, as they are under jurisdiction of the Superior Court or Supreme Court. They include:
- Felonies perpetrated by individuals above the age of 18
- Cases involving juveniles charged with
- Assault, unlawful sexual intercourse, robbery, rape, attempted murder, or murder in the first degree
- Rape, robbery, or murder in the second degree
There are no jury trials in the Family Court and unless required by statute or rule, a commissioner or judge has the authority to hear family law cases involving:
- Child abuse
- Child and spouse support
- Child custody & visitation
- Child dependency
- Juvenile delinquency
- Domestic violence
- Annulment & Divorce
- Termination of parental rights
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Delaware State
Under the Family Court Rules of Civil Procedure, Del. Fam. Ct. Civ. R. 3(a), before an individual or petitioner can serve Family Court papers to a respondent in the State of Delaware, they must file an accurate petition (complaint or statement of claim) with the Clerk of Court.
When the petition is filed, the Clerk issues a summons and directs it to be served personally upon the respondent named in the complaint. The summons carries the name of a county sheriff, sheriff's deputy, or a person appointed by the Court, directed to serve it.
The summons and a copy of petition are served together as per the State’s service of process:
- By personal service upon a competent individual. If the individual is absent/unavailable, copies may be delivered to a person of suitable age and discretion at the individual's residence. Copies may also be delivered to the individual’s attorney, or any agent permitted by statute to receive service.
- Upon a domestic, or foreign corporation to an agent or officer authorized by law to receive service, or by mailing the copies to the respondent.
- Upon a minor under the age of 18, by personal service to the minor’s parent(s), guardian, or custodian in the State. If the minor has no parent, guardian, or custodian, it may be served upon an adult with whom they live. If they are a corporation, then it is served as upon a corporation.
- Upon the guardian of an individual who is declared unfit, in the same manner as an able individual. If there is no such guardian, the summons may be served unto an adult in the individual’s residence. If the guardian is a corporation, then it is served as upon a corporation.
- Upon a minor, competent person, or unfit person who is not found in the State or a nonresident of the State, as directed by statute.
The Court may permit alternative methods of service which the Clerk has authority to enforce, given that it does not negate a statute, rule, or order.
What is Contained in a Family Court Summons?
A summons is a document that notifies a person when a petition or complaint has been filed against them in a court of law. A Clerk of Court or a Clerk’s deputy must sign the summons and it must be under the seal of the court. It must also have the following details:
- Court Name
- Names of the party or parties
- Full name of the respondent
- Name and address of the petitioner's attorney, (or the petitioner's address, in cases where he/she is not represented by an attorney)
- Period within which court rules require the respondent to appear in Court
- A statement notifying the respondent that failure to appear and respond will result in the entry of default judgment against them
What is Contempt of Court in Family Law in Delaware State?
Delaware’s Family Law Statutes, as detailed in the Family Court Rules of Civil Procedures, Rule70, describe Contempt of Court as the action of a person who intentionally defies a Court order or neglects to comply with a court decision.
Common causes of contempt in the Family Court of Delaware include:
- Failure to obey a subpoena without suitable justification
- Failure to comply with a restraining or injunctive order
- Failure to obey and comply with any protective Court order
A Contempt of Court may be civil or criminal. In civil cases of contempt, the individual fails to heed a Court order after he/she has been warned. The Court may impose remedies and sanctions that compel the offender to obey.
An individual commits criminal contempt when he/she intentionally defies a domestic violence protective order in the State of Delaware. Criminal contempt is generally treated as a Class A misdemeanor. It is treated as a Class F felony when the violation results in physical injury or involves the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon.
The Court may commence and prosecute a criminal contempt on three bases, as given by Rule 42, Family Court Criminal Rules:
- When the contempt was committed before the Court
- When a complaint or petition was filed by a complainant or the Attorney General
- When the judge has given oral notice directly to the offender in open court to appear for a hearing. The notice states the time and date of the hearing and the basic details of the charge(s). An Order of apprehension or an order to show cause, requested by the Attorney General or a designated attorney, may also be used to give the notice.
After a hearing, the Court may punish a person found guilty of criminal contempt of court with:
- A minimum of 15 days incarceration with no option for probation, suspension, or parole if the offense caused physical injury, involved the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon, or if the respondent has two or more prior convictions of contempt
The Court may also impose an order of restitution on the defendant to compensate the victim. Other punishments deemed appropriate by the court include:
- A fine, not less than $500 and not more than $10,000
- Imprisonment, not less than 3 months and nor over 1 year, or both.
Are Family Court Records Public in Delaware State?
Family Court records in the State of Delaware are, by default, accessible to the public. As stated in Delaware’s public access policy for Family Court records, individuals acting in a public capacity, and public/private associations, organizations, or agencies, are eligible to inspect and review Family Court proceedings. The Family Court may seal records containing sensitive and/or personal information from public access to protect the interests of the parties involved. Such information is inaccessible to the public sans permission by court order.
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.
Are Delaware Divorce Records Sealed or Public Records?
Divorce records are open to public access in the State of Delaware. Members of the public can request to inspect the records but only parties with a legitimate claim can request copies. Parties may request that their divorce records be placed under seal or redacted to avoid public access to sensitive or confidential information. Such information includes details of child support agreements, social security numbers, and identities of minors and victims of sexual abuse.
How to Access Family Law Cases in Delaware State
Members of the public can access family law cases by contacting the Clerk of Court/Records Custodian of the Family Court during business hours: Monday to Friday; 08:30 a.m. to 04:30 p.m.
Family records are not available to the public online. Therefore, persons requesting access to their case records can only do so by visiting the Records Room of the Family Courthouse where their files are located, with proper identification. He/she may also make inquiries via phone call to the county where the records are located:
- (302) 255-0300 in New Castle County
- (302) 672-1000 in Kent County
- (302) 855-7400 in Sussex County
Note: A fee may be required if a record is archived.
Anyone can access family cases by visiting the appropriate courthouse to make the request or by sending a mail request to the county’s Clerk with a completed application form attached. He/She must provide and/or attach adequate information in the form to allow easy identification of the record. For civil cases, this includes the party’s full name and an estimated arrest date. For criminal cases, this includes the party’s full name, date of birth, charge(s), case number(s), and estimated arrest date.
Send the mail request to, or visit, one of the following Delaware courthouse addresses:
New Castle County: Records Department
500 N. King St.
Wilmington, DE 19801
Kent County: Records Department
400 Court Street
Dover, DE 19901
Sussex County: Records Department
22 The Circle
Georgetown, DE 19947
How to Obtain Copies of Family Law Cases
An individual who wants to make copies of his/her file must enclose the search/copy fees for the request, payable by money order or check. Copies include photocopy, a certified copy, and an exemplified copy. Costs vary by type of copy and family case type being requested.
Parties are also entitled to electronic copies by filling and submitting the Electronic Copy of Audio Record & Affidavit of Proper Use (Form 801). Provided they make the request within 5 years of the initial hearing. Each hearing has a $25 charge and the individual can get a form online on the Family Court’s website.
No member of the public is permitted to leave the courtroom with any original record, exhibit, or paper, except permitted by court order. Copies of the original record are available to members of the public in photocopy, certified copy, or exemplified copy. Records and information confidential to the public or redacted by court rule are exempted from this rule.
Additionally, publicly available records may be 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.
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.