The Probate and Family Court can get access to criminal, restraining order, and juvenile court records about you and the other parent.
Beginning on June 1, 2011, each Probate and Family Court will be following a new rule called Standing Order 1-11. Standing Order 1-11 says how the Court uses information in its computerized record keeping systems. There are two record keeping systems. One is called the Court Activity Record Information (CARI). The other is called the Warrant Management System (WMS).
What's this all about?
Parties with custody cases in the Probate and Family Court are often referred by the judge to the Probation Department for "dispute intervention," investigation, or supervision services.
When Probation receives a referral, they look up the names of the parties in the Court's statewide computer system (called MassCourts). They do this to find out whether any of the parties in the case referred to them has any other cases. It's basically an identity check.
Sometimes when they do this identity check they learn that there is CARI information about a party in the case they are dealing with. CARI includes Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI), juvenile records, and restraining order information. The way MassCourts is designed makes it so that the CARI comes up automatically, without the Probation Officer having to look for it.
The Probate and Family Court and the Probation Department believe that they cannot simply ignore the existence of CARI information related to people who have cases in the Court. At the same time there must be fairness protections before the CARI can be considered by a judge.
The Standing Order says how the Probation Department and the judge use CARI. It says what the fairness protections are.
What does Standing Order 1-11 say?
Standing Order 1-11 says:
The Probation Department must obtain CARI and WMS information for all parties referred by a judge for probation services. Probation services include dispute intervention, investigations, and case supervision.
Judge are already required to get CARI in restraining order cases (such as 209As), and the Standing Order does not limit that responsibility.
Before Probation provides services, it must tell a party who has CARI that Probation has reviewed their CARI.
When Probation conducts a dispute intervention, the Probation Officer must tell all parties and their lawyers whether Probation has considered any party's CARI. If a party tells the Probation Officer about safety concerns, the CARI information must be discussed separately.
The Probation Officer must tell each party that has a CARI what information in his or her CARI has been considered in completing the service asked for by the judge.
Probation must give you and your lawyer an opportunity to look at your CARI.
You can consent to Probation disclosing your CARI to the other party.
If you do not give this consent, the other party can ask the judge to order disclosure of the CARI.
The Probation Department is allowed to disclose the CARI record to the judge.
If the judge does look at the CARI record, he or she must explain on the record or by written findings what information they relied on and what conclusions they made as a result of looking at the CARI.
The judge must give you a "reasonable and meaningful opportunity" to question ("rebut") any information that might appear in your CARI.
You can ask the judge for additional time to rebut the information in your CARI.
If Probation receives information that there is an outstanding warrant for either party, they must notify the judge.
For more details look at Standing Order 1-11.
Is there a court form that tells me my rights?
The Probate and Family Court has issued a court form that tells you about your rights.
The form has a place where you can sign to give your permission to the other party to look at your CARI.
It has a place where you can ask the judge to make an order that you can look at the other party's CARI.
It has a place where you can ask the judge to give you more time to question ("rebut") your CARI record.
Produced by Jeff Wolf, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Created May, 2011