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How the Probate and Family Court Gets Access to DCF Records

 

The Probate and Family Court can get access to Department of Children and Families (DCF) records about you, your children, and the other parent.

Beginning on June 1, 2011, the Court will be following a new rule called Standing Order 2-11. Standing Order 2-11 says how the Court gets and uses information from DCF.

What's this all about?

Sometimes, in a custody hearing, a judge may decide that he or she needs information from DCF records right away in order to make a decision about your child.

Sometimes you may want the judge to see a DCF record but don't know how to get the information to court.  For example there may be a DCF record showing that you did not abuse or neglect your child.  Or there may be DCF record showing that the other parent did abuse or neglect the child.

The Standing Order tells how the information gets to the court.

Sometimes the other parent wants the judge to see a DCF record because he or she thinks that the records will show that you have abused or neglected your children.  You will want to see the records first so you can explain your side or tell the judge why he or she should not use the records as evidence in your case.

The Standing Order says how you get to look at the records first.

What does Standing Order 2-11 say?

Standing Order 2-11 says:

If the Probate and Family Court decides that it needs information from DCF to make a custody decision, it must either get your written, informed consent for DCF to produce specific documents or make a court order saying which DCF documents should be produced at the court.

You can ask for a hearing about whether the DCF documents are needed.

Situations where the court may request DCF documents include where:

  • a court paper shows that there is an ongoing case about the welfare of your child.
  • a report to the court says that there is a past or present court case about the welfare of your child; past or present involvement with DCF; or a histody of abuse or neglect.
  • witness testimony says that there is a past or present court case about the welfare of your child; past or present involvement with DCF; or a history of abuse or neglect.
  • a party reveals his or her own, or alleges another party's past or present involvement with DCF; or a history of abuse or neglect.

You and your lawyer must have the opportunity to look at all documents from DCF before the court hearing.

You must have an "adequate and meaningful opportunity" to respond to what's in the documents.

Upon your request for additional time to respond, the hearing may be postponed ("continued") for up to 7 days.  Continuances must be freely granted.

At the hearing the Court may consider the documents according to the rules of evidence.

The judge must let you object to and challenge ("rebut") information about them in the documents.

You and your lawyer can look at the DCF documents as often as you want, upon reasonable request.  You can take notes but cannot scan or photocopy the documents.

If both parties have a lawyer, the lawyers are entitled to copies of the documents.  If neither party has a lawyer or only one party has a lawyer, the party or lawyer must file a motion to get copies.

No one who sees the DCF documents is allowed to reveal ("disclose") an impounded address or use the information in the documents except as allowed by order of the Court.

Is there a court form that tells me my rights?

Yes.

The Probate and Family Court has issued a court form that tells you about your rights. 

The form has a place where you sign to give your permission for DCF to send the records to the court.  It also has a place where the judge signs if he or she makes an order for DCF to produce the records.

The form says what will happen if you sign the form or if the judge makes an order requesting DCF to produce the records.

Your signature allows DCF to send to the court only the specific DCF documents that you have checked off on the form.

When the documents come to the court, you will have enough time to look at them before the judge sees them.

If you don't sign the form, the judge can make an order requesting DCF to send the specific documents.

You can ask for a hearing about whether the DCF documents are needed.

You will be able to explain to the judge about the information in the documents.

If you need time to prepare your explanation, the judge can postpone the hearing for up to 7 days.

The form has check boxes for you to give permission to DCF to send child abuse and neglect reports covering specific periods of time.

The form has a check boxes where you can ask DCF to remove residential, workplace, and school address information from the records before they send the records to the court.


Produced by Jeff Wolf, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created May, 2011


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