Learn about the different types of cases heard at family court, and how they are different from cases heard in general civil or criminal court.
Criminal cases involve enforcing public codes of behavior, which are codified in the laws of the state. In criminal cases, the government prosecutes individuals for violating those laws (in other words, for allegedly committing a crime). Punishment in criminal cases can include fines, community service, probation, or prison.
The Family Law Self-Help Center does not provide information or forms for criminal cases. You should not use the information on this website if you are involved in a criminal matter. To learn more about criminal matters, visit your local law library. Visit our Law Library page to learn more.
Civil cases involve conflicts between people or institutions such as businesses, typically over money. Civil cases include lawsuits
for money, landlord/tenant matters, breach of contract claims, and cases where one person is trying to make someone else do something (for example, sell some property) or stop doing something (for example, stop a foreclosure).
If you need information or forms for a general civil case, you can contact the Civil Law Self-Help Center online or by visiting the center in person on the first floor of the Regional Justice Center.
Family cases are a type of civil case, but they generally involve issues between or concerning spouses, parents, and children. Family courts handle a wide variety of cases involving domestic matters. The most common issues handled at family court include:
- Marriage Dissolution. When someone wants to end a marriage, they can file a case at family court to ask for a court order ending the marriage. Marriages can be terminated through divorce or annulment cases. The court can also grant a separation, where the court issues orders regarding property, alimony, and child custody, but the parties remain legally married. You can find more information on the Divorce, Annulment, or Separation sections of this site.
- Paternity and Child Custody. When a man needs to be declared the father of a child, either parent can file a case asking the family court to determine paternity. This permanently establishes the father of the child. Unmarried parents can also ask the court to order legal custody, physical custody, visitation schedules, and child support. You can find more information about these types of cases on the Custody, Paternity, & Child Support section of this website.
- Protection Orders Against Domestic Violence. Victims of domestic violence can ask the family court to issue protection orders to keep their abuser away. Please visit the DV Protection Orders for more information.
- Name Changes. A child or an adult may be able to legally change their name through a name change case at family court. Please visit the Name Change section for more information.
- Guardianship. Guardianship involves determining who will be responsible for the medical, personal, and financial decisions over a child or an adult who cannot care for themself. More information can be found on the Guardianship section of this website.
- Termination of Parental Rights and Adoptions. If there are serious reasons why a parent should no longer have a parental relationship with a child (such as abandonment, neglect, abuse, etc.), the family court may terminate that parent’s rights. If someone else wants to become a child’s legal parent, the family court can grant an adoption where the parent-child relationship is legally created. More information is located on the Adoptions and Terminating Parental Rights section of this website.
- Juvenile Matters. Family court oversees all matters where there are allegations of child abuse, child neglect, or where minors are accused of participating in illegal behavior. These matters are largely handled by the District Attorney Juvenile Division. The family court can also approve work permits for minors under the age of 14. Visit Juvenile Work Permits for more information about this.
- Emancipation and Approval of Underage Marriages. Those under the age of 18 who wish to marry or want to be “emancipated” (meaning, being legally free from the control of their parents) can petition the family court for approval. The Self-Help Center does not have forms for approval of underage marriages, but does have information about emancipation in the Emancipation section of this website.
If you are finding a good family lawyer, just contact us for more information.