What Are Tennessee Family Court Records?
Tennessee Family Court records provide details of ongoing and concluded cases and hearings held at the courts handling domestic relations and juvenile issues in the state. They are the official documents of Tennessee Family Courts. While some of these records are openly available to the public, others are redacted or sealed to protect certain subjects and details of family law cases. In addition to case files and dockets of the Family Court, these records also include orders, agreements, and petitions prepared and/or submitted to the court.
What Is a Family Court in Tennessee?
The Tennessee Judicial System does not have a clearly defined Family Court. Rather, family law cases are handled by different trial courts in the state as well as the juvenile court. Tennessee Circuit and Chancery Courts have jurisdiction over the following family law matters:
- Spousal support
- Domestic abuse
Some family law cases involving minors are handled by Juvenile Courts in Tennessee. There are 98 Juvenile Courts in the state with 17 of them classified as Private Act Juvenile Courts while the other 81 are General Sessions Courts with jurisdiction over juvenile cases. Each of Tennessee’s 95 counties has a Juvenile Court. The Cities of Bristol and Johnson also have Juvenile Courts separately from the ones in their counties.
The jurisdiction of Tennessee Juvenile Courts includes cases involving:
- Juvenile delinquency and status offenses
- Child neglect and abuse
- Parentage and parental rights
- Child visitation
- Consent for medical/mental health treatment for minors
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Tennessee
The three ways to serve Family Court papers in Tennessee are:
- Hand delivery by a Sheriff
- Hand delivery by a Process Server
- Mail Delivery
Before initiating a court action, the party bringing the lawsuit or petitioning the court must serve the named defendant initial court papers. Legal documents that require service include summons, complaints, petitions, discovery documents, divorce papers, and family law documents.
Tennessee does not allow individuals that are party to a legal action to serve court documents. The server must also be 18 years or older. The most convenient method of serving court paper in the state is via County Sheriffs. Private process servers are alternatives and usually more tenacious when serving court papers.
Plaintiffs may not deliver Family Court papers by mail unless approved to do so by the court. Mail delivery is allowed only if there have been repeated attempts to hand deliver court documents to defendants. Service by Mail often requires the cooperation of the receiving party. To conclude the service, the recipient must sign a Waiver of Service of Process and return a receipt acknowledging receiving the documents by mail.
What Is Contempt of Family Court in Tennessee?
To rule an action as contempt of court in Tennessee, one party must inform the court about a violation of a court order. Tennessee courts have two types of contempt of court: civil and criminal. The most common one in family law cases is civil contempt of court. This happens when one party, most often the defendant, refuses to follow an order, agreement, or judgement passed by the court. Common examples of civil contempt of Family Court in Tennessee include:
- Failing to pay spousal and/or child support
- Refusal to follow child custody arrangements
- Refusal to transfer properties as divided in a divorce judgement
Criminal contempt of court usually follows open challenge of the court’s authority or hindering the operations of the court. Tennessee courts punish criminal contempt with up to 10 days in jail. Both types of contempt can be direct (happens in the presence of a judge and in court) or indirect (occurs outside court when a judge is not present).
Are Tennessee Family Court Records Available to the Public?
Yes. Most of the records of Tennessee Family Courts are available to the public. Records of cases tried in the state’s Circuit and Chancery Courts can be viewed and copied by anyone unless sealed by court order. However, Juvenile Court records are exempted. Records of family law cases involving minors are not available to the public in Tennessee.
How to Look Up Family Court Records in Tennessee
Family Court records, with the exception of Juvenile Court records, are maintained by Tennessee court clerks. Visit the website of the court where a case took place when searching for its court records. Navigate to the section reserved for the Clerk of the county’s Circuit Court and/or Chancery Court. Most Tennessee counties make their court records available and searchable online. Look for the Case Search link and follow it to search for records of ongoing and concluded family law cases.
To look up Tennessee Family Court records in person, find the address of the Circuit/Chancery Court Clerk’s Office on the county’s website. Call this office to enquire about the availability of the Family Court records you want. You can also find information about business hours and days of the week when the Clerk’s Court opens for public enquiries.
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 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 Request Family Court Records in Tennessee
Requests for Family Court records must also go to the Chancery or Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Check on the county’s website to see if the Office accepts requests submitted online. Some Tennessee counties can process requests for court records sent by mail while others require requesters to visit or call the Clerk’s Office.
Counties that accept mail requests will provide Request Forms that must be completed and submitted. Other documents may be required to process such requests. Tennessee Court Clerk’s Offices charge nominal fees for copies of court records. You can find the fee rate on the county’s website or call the Clerk’s Office to ask. Requests submitted by mail must include checks or money orders covering copy fees. Counties that accept online requests will require requesters to pay with credit or debit cards while cash is accepted for in-person requests.
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.
Are Divorce Records Sealed or Public in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, the proceedings of divorce court cases are available to the public. While these are public records, some parts may be redacted or sealed by court order. Some Tennessee counties make divorce records searchable online too. While courts provide copies of divorce case files, the Tennessee Vital Records Office provides divorce certificates. Certified copies of these divorce records are only available to the parties involved or their named family members. All divorce records become public records in Tennessee after 50 years. This is the time when they all go to the Tennessee State Library and Archives.