Is Family Court Open to the Public? What You Need To Know

Family court handles cases such as child custody, child support, adoption, domestic violence, divorce, and paternity.

But is family court open to the public?

family court
Family Court | Mitchell Law

Can anyone attend a family court hearing and observe the proceedings?

The answer is not so simple.

It depends on several factors, such as the type of case, the location of the court, the discretion of the judge or support magistrate, and the privacy interests of the parties involved.

READ MORE: How to Get a Restraining Order: A Step-by-Step Guide

The General Rule: Family Court is Open to the Public

The general rule is that family court is open to the public, in addition to those persons who are directly involved with a particular case.

This means that anyone can enter a family court building and watch a hearing, unless there is a specific reason to exclude them.

The rationale behind this rule is that public access to court proceedings promotes transparency, accountability, and public confidence in the judicial system.

Public access to family court also serves as a form of education for the public.

By observing family court hearings, people can learn about the laws and procedures that govern family matters, as well as the rights and responsibilities of parents and children.

Public access can also help people who are facing similar issues in their own lives to understand what to expect from the court process and how to prepare for their own cases.

The Exceptions: When Family Court is Closed to the Public

However, there are some exceptions to the general rule of public access to family court.

Sometimes, the judge or support magistrate presiding over each case has the authority to exclude the public from the courtroom depending on the nature of the case or the privacy interests of the parties.

For example, some types of cases that may be closed to the public are:

Child abuse or neglect cases

These cases involve sensitive and confidential information about the welfare and safety of children who may have been harmed or are at risk of harm by their parents or caregivers.

The court may close these cases to protect the identity and privacy of the children and their families, as well as to prevent further trauma or stigma.

Juvenile delinquency cases

These cases involve children who are accused of committing crimes or violating laws.

The court may close these cases to protect the identity and privacy of the children and their families, as well as to encourage rehabilitation and avoid labeling them as criminals.

Adoption cases

These cases involve the legal transfer of parental rights and responsibilities from one person or couple to another person or couple who wish to adopt a child.

The court may close these cases to protect the identity and privacy of the adoptive parents and the child, as well as to respect the wishes of the biological parents who may have consented or relinquished their rights.

Mental health cases

These cases involve persons who are alleged to be mentally ill or incapacitated and who may need involuntary treatment or guardianship.

The court may close these cases to protect the identity and privacy of the persons and their families, as well as to respect their dignity and autonomy.

In addition, some other factors that may lead to closing a family court hearing are:

1.The safety or security of any person involved in the case or present in the courtroom
2.The orderly conduct of the proceedings
3.The best interests of justice

The decision to close a family court hearing is not taken lightly.

The judge or support magistrate must balance the public interest in access with the private interest in confidentiality.

The judge or support magistrate must also state on the record the reasons for closing a hearing and make sure that no more than necessary is excluded from public view.

How to Find Out If a Family Court Hearing is Open or Closed

If you are interested in attending a family court hearing, you may want to find out beforehand if it is open or closed to the public.

ew York County Family Court - Mitchell Giurgola
New York County Family Court – Mitchell Giurgol

There are several ways you can do this:

Check online

Some family courts post their daily calendars or schedules online for public viewing.

You can search for your local family court website and look for information on how to access their calendars or schedules.

See what types of cases are being heard on a given day and time, as well as which courtroom they are assigned to.

Call ahead

You can also call your local family court clerk’s office and ask them if a specific case or hearing is open or closed to the public.

Provide some information about the case, such as the names of the parties, the docket number, or the date and time of the hearing.

Visit in person

You can also visit your local family court building in person and ask a staff member at the information desk or security checkpoint if a specific case or hearing is open or closed to the public.

Show some identification and go through a metal detector before entering the building.

What to Expect When Attending a Family Court Hearing

If you decide to attend a family court hearing that is open to the public, there are some things you should expect and some rules you should follow:

Expect to wait

Family court hearings are often scheduled in advance, but they may not start or end on time.

There may be delays or adjournments due to various reasons, such as the availability of the parties, the witnesses, the lawyers, or the judge or support magistrate.

You may have to wait for a long time before the hearing you want to watch begins or resumes.

You may also have to leave the courtroom and come back later if the hearing is interrupted or recessed for any reason.

Expect to be respectful

Family court hearings are serious and formal proceedings that require respect and decorum from everyone present.

 

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