Overview

The Probate and Family Court Department has jurisdiction over divorce, paternity, child support, custody, visitation, adoption, termination of parental rights, abuse prevention, wills, estates, trusts, guardianships, conservatorships, and change of name cases.

Probate and Family Court proceedings are generally open to the public and information in case files is generally open to public inspection, with the exception of cases that are confidential by statute. Cases that are confidential by statute can only be viewed by the parties and their attorneys.

Case types that are confidential and not open to public inspection include adoptions and child welfare. See G.L. c. 210 §5C, and G.L. c. 119. Paternity cases are confidential after an alleged father is found not to be the father and Abuse Prevention cases are confidential if the plaintiff or defendant is a minor. See G.L. c. 209C, §13 and G.L. c. 209A, §8. The child can ask for the guardianship proceeding to be closed under G.L. 190B, §5-106(c).

Furthermore, there are documents within cases that are segregated from public inspection by statute, case law, Trial Court rule, or Probate and Family Court standing order. The following case documents are confidential by statute, rule or standing order and are not available to the public, or, in the case of the Affidavit of Indigency, not available to either the public or parties to the case:

Affidavit of indigency, financial statements, guardian ad litem reports, personal medical information, medical certificates and clinical team reports, qualified domestic relations orders, or a 209A plaintiff's residential address, residential telephone number and workplace name, address and telephone number. G. L. c. 209A, §8, Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 401(d), Probate and Family Court Standing Order 1-09, and Probate and Family Court Standing Order 3-08.

Access to information that is confidential or impounded by court order, rule or standing order can only be obtained with a court order. If you are neither a party to a case nor an attorney for a party in a case, any access to impounded or confidential case files or documents within the case files can only be obtained by order of the Court. See Trial Court Rule VIII: Uniform Rules on Impoundment Procedure, Rule 6

For information on impoundment of specific documents in the Probate and Family Court, see the following:

When can court personnel disclose information to DCF?

When DCF is a party to the case, access to the court record of the case is permitted. In any court proceedings in which the case is confidential and in which DCF is not a party to a case, a court order is necessary to obtain information from the case. In all court proceedings of a case that is not confidential, DCF has access to a case for public inspection except for documents impounded by court order or rule. See Trial Court Rule XIV Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, Rule 1(c).

When can court personnel disclose information to Juvenile Court Investigators?

In all court proceedings in which the case is not confidential, any member of the public has access to the case for public inspection, except for documents impounded by court order, rule, standing order, or case law. In any court proceedings in which the case is confidential, a court order is necessary to obtain case information. See Trial Court Rule XIV Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, Rule 1(c).

When can court personnel disclose information to an attorney for a child or young adult?

When an attorney represents the child or young adult, access to the court record of the case is permitted. In all court proceedings of a case that is not confidential, the attorney for the child or young adult has access to a case for public inspection except for documents impounded by court order or rule. See Trial Court Rule XIV Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, Rule 1(c).

When can court personnel disclose information to a parent's attorney?

When an attorney represents the parent, access to the court record of the case is permitted. In any court proceedings in which the case is confidential and in which the parent’s attorney does not represent a party, a court order is necessary to obtain information from the case. In all court proceedings of a case that is not confidential, the parent’s attorney has access to a case for public inspection except for documents impounded by court order or rule. See Trial Court Rule XIV Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, Rule 1(c).

When can court personnel disclose information to a GAL or CASA?

In any court proceedings in which the case is confidential the GAL or CASA will need a court order to obtain information from the case. In all court proceedings of a case that is not confidential, the case is available for public inspection except for documents impounded by court order or rule. See Trial Court Rule XIV Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records, Rule 1(c).

When can court personnel disclose information to police and prosecutors?

In any court proceedings in which the case is confidential a court order is necessary to obtain information from the case. In all court proceedings of a case that is not confidential, the case is available for public inspection except for documents impounded by court order or rule.

When can court personnel disclose information to the Office of the Child Advocate?

The Child Advocate shall have access to relevant records held by the clerk of the Probate and Family Court. G.L. c. 18C, §6.

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