Yes, Child Custody Records are Public in California
Under certain circumstances, parents going through a divorce may not want the custody records of their children to be public information during or after the divorce process. However, in California, public records do include both divorce and child custody records in the file. To avoid making child custody records public, parents have a few options.
For unmarried parents, the issue of public child custody records is simple, because custody records of unmarried couples are confidential. So, only the parents or their attorney can access the court records.
Unmarried couples with children will need to come to a private custody agreement that defines where their children will live, whether one parent will provide financial support to the other, and what each parent’s visiting rights will be.
A private custody agreement, if put in writing and signed by both parents, is legally enforceable. But because that document is not a court order, it doesn’t become public record.
Married couples who have children, but who don’t want their child custody records to become public information during a divorce, have limited options.
The simplest option is to separate, but not legally divorce. While this may not be feasible long-term (especially if one or both spouses intend to remarry) it is a workable short-term solution.
Like unmarried parents, married-but-separated couples can create and sign a private custody agreement that is legally binding. If and when they do decide to legally divorce, whatever custody agreement they or the judge decides on in the final divorce agreement will become public record.
Each state may have different rules about what information is and is not publicly accessible. In California, both temporary and final child custody orders are public record. However, California makes exceptions for cases that are confidential in and of themselves, such as those involving child adoption.
California also allows certain parts of a case to be “sealed” (made confidential), like custody recommendations and professional evaluations from mental health experts.
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