How to Obtain Court Records in Illinois
In Illinois, counties are assigned to a circuit court where all legal proceedings begin. There are 24 circuits in the state, and within these circuit courts are divisions for family court, probate court, juvenile court, small claims, and other purposes as needed. Circuit courts handle all misdemeanor and felony crimes, lawsuits, and landlord-tenant complaints. To reduce the caseload, many civil cases are sent to arbitration panels, which hear cases that represent under $30,000 in value in some counties and under $50,000 in others.
Above circuit courts are appellate courts, which hear disputes over decisions made in lower courts as well as automatic appeals of death penalty cases. This court also has jurisdiction over some administrative panels and the state worker’s compensation commission decisions.
The state supreme court is the court of last resort as it determines the constitutionality of state laws as well as whether the law was applied appropriately in lower court decisions. The supreme court also has jurisdiction over the state bar association.
Requesting court records
The logical place to begin in a search for court records is the clerk of the court where the case was heard. Illinois does not currently have a searchable database of records, so it’s recommended that you compile everything you know about the case you are researching and contact the clerk’s office in the circuit court where you believe the case started. This page provides links to the circuit courts: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Links/circuit.asp.
Divorce decrees are accessible only through the court where the divorce was granted. The documents are important to keep for financial documents, housing applications, student aid, and more. Family courts are located within the circuit courts, so contact the clerk of the court according to this list: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Links/circuit.asp.
Other family court documents may be more difficult to obtain due to confidentiality issues: juvenile court cases are confidential due to the age of the individuals involved. Court records will likely have any medical information removed and may even be redacted to protect the identities of victims of certain crimes.
Probate court records
When a person dies, the property he or she owns is transferred to heirs according to the owner’s will or trust documents. Probate courts make sure all taxes are paid and rightful ownership is conferred. It is possible to research this information and request records by contacting the clerk of the circuit court in the district where the property owner lived. Use this list to find the correct court: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Links/circuit.asp.
Unlike most legal records, bankruptcy cases are not handled in local or statewide courts, they are conducted in federal courts with state jurisdiction. U.S. District Courts also have jurisdiction over federal crimes, class action lawsuits, and other legal matters that involve more than one state. To search bankruptcy records for Illinois, start here: https://www.pacer.gov/.