DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance is recommended
Initial Filing Fee: Varies
Civil court in Texas is a vague description of a variety of services. The civil court is where you go to file and try cases concerning civil law (disputes between individuals or organizations in which compensation may be awarded to the plaintiff) as well as a case that falls under the guise of consumer, family, injury, probate (dividing an estate after a death), and property matters. Specifically, the main topics covered are as follows:
• Civil: Litigation that of a noncriminal issue that is intended to protect or preserve a civil or private right or matter
• Family: Between a husband, wife, or children and any of their blood relations
• Injury: Relating to any harm done to a person by the actions or omissions of another person. This includes physical harm as well as damage to a person’s reputation or dignity and any loss of legal right or breach of a contract
• Probate: The official process of transferring legal titles and ownership of property after a person’s death to their heirs or those named in their will
• Property: Anything owned by a person or group / entity. The two types are real property and personal property. Real property is also known as real estate, while personal property is anything other than real estate. A further subdivision is community property and personal property. Community property is property co-owned by spouses, while personal property is property owned by one person.
Sometimes the term venue is used to describe the place that a trial takes place, the venue varies depending on the type of case you are bringing to trial as some cases are tried in different places. For example, a case made against someone who owes you money will often be made in small claims court and will involve working directly with the clerk of the small claims court, rather than any other specific clerk in your county. Additionally, there are no forms available on the Texas Civil Courts Directory, meaning that while you may be able to find some forms on county sites (such as forms for small claims court) or online (such as forms for divorces), there are some you can only receive from a county clerk (such as forms for adoption).
Step 1: Decide What Type of Case You are Making
You will need to consider the list above and identify what type of case you are going to make. For some cases, such as contested divorces (where both sides do not agree), you will want to seek the aid of a lawyer as well. This information will then the guide your subsequent actions.
Step 2: Collect the Necessary Forms
While many forms are available online, you may want to contact your county clerk as well to discuss with them what forms you will need as well as how you can go about receiving them.
Step 3: Fill Out The Forms
Once you have the forms you need you will need to fill them out, collect any relevant information (such as 401(k) info in the case of divorce, or proof of malfeasance in the case of abuse), and make two copies of the original forms. Be very careful to fill everything out correctly, as a misspelling of someone’s name might cause your case to be thrown out.
Step 4: Submit the Forms to the Relevant County Clerk
Once your forms are completed, you will want to bring the original and two copies to the County Clerk. The county you go to depends on your case. For cases against a specific person, you generally want to file the forms in the county they reside in or the county that you reside in. Additionally, you will want to see if only a specific clerk can file your forms, such as a clerk of the small claims court is the only one who can file small claims forms. The clerk will file your forms and stamp the two extra copies. One is for you to keep and the other is for serving the defending party.
Step 5: Serve the Defending Party
After you file the forms, the defending party must be legally notified of the case being brought against them. In some cases the defendant can sign a Waiver of Citation form to say that they are already familiar with the case being brought against them and do not wish to debate it, but these are not always possible (such as in small claims cases). The defendant can be notified through an official service, where a fee is paid to provide them with the information, by handing them the information yourself, or through publishing it in the paper or some other medium if they cannot be found. Once the defending party has been served and answers the service, a trial date can be set. If they do not answer the service within a certain period of time, the case will move forward without them.
Step 6: The Trial
For the trial, you will want to bring copies of all your forms and the information you need to prove your side of the case. Be prepared for a long process just in case. For cases such as divorces, the trial should only occur after an agreement has been reached outside the courtroom, as the trial proceedings for a divorce are simply a formal confirmation of the divorce. Additionally, do not miss your court date, as doing so means it is up to the judge whether they reschedule the trial or simply throw it out.
Step 7: Appeals
If you or the defendant do not agree with the verdict reached it is possible to appeal the decision. To do so you will want to speak to the county clerk, and for appeals it is generally best to employ a lawyer as the law gets much more complicated in such cases.
Step 8: File the Decisions
Once an official decision has been reached, you should file the decision with your clerk or with the County Deed Records. This is necessary to make the decision legally binding and to collect whatever remunerations or results you sought in the case.