What is Civil Court?

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  • Written By: C. Daw
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 January 2020
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A civil court is a local court that handles matters that are not criminal in nature. Legal matters which require the decision of a judge, such as personal lawsuits which are commonly known as small claims lawsuits, as well as family and domestic issues. The civil court will hand down a decision which all the parties that are involved must follow, or they can be brought up on criminal charges. These charges would be pressed by a higher court, though, since the civil level does not handle these types of issues.

As with other types of court proceedings, one person demands that some type of relief be ordered by the judge in the given case in civil court. The two most common types of relief that civil courts hand out are monetary and equitable relief settlements. Monetary relief settlements occur when one person is suing another, such as for damages incurred during a dog attack. An equitable relief settlement would be ordered in cases such as a barking dog that keeps the neighbors up all night. These two types of settlements can be awarded by the judge, can be changed in order to suit the given case, or can be denied. Proof lies with the person that filed the suit, so if evidence is not effectively introduced into the proceedings, the case can be lost, much like other more popular criminal trials.


Cases in civil court begin with a plaintiff filing some type of lawsuit against a defendant. Proper documentation must be filed with the courts, and the fee that is set forth by the given area must be paid before a case can be made. From there, the defendant must be served and then is given a specific amount of time to respond to the case. The defendant can either file motions against the case, or can agree to go ahead with the court hearings and make a defense there.

Only private individuals or companies can file a civil court case. No civil trial can be started by any government entity, and as such, is not a criminal court. It is possible to have a criminal proceeding in one court, while having a civil trial in another. This frequently happens when drunk drivers injure others. The state will file criminal charges in a higher court, while the family of the victims will file for damages on a civil level.


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Post 7

@behaviourism- I don't make a habit of watching court cases, but I did have a friend who got sued in a somewhat ridiculous way, and I remember going to court to watch and support her. Even in our small town, I couldn't believe how complicated some cases could get, and how hassled the judge and court clerk could be by people in the courtroom.

Post 6

@letshearit- I have always wondered about those TV courts too, because I know real courtrooms do have audiences too, though not to the same degree. I knew some kids in high school who were really interested in legal issues, so they were to the county courts a lot to watch local cases. I think it paid off, too, because a few of them are lawyers now. You can learn a lot from watching those sorts of cases.

Post 5

@JimmyT - I had to go through small claims court to try to collect a payment from one of my clients one time.

I'm not sure if this is normal for all cases, but for ours, we had what was called a settlement conference where we met with a justice of the peace and he tried to get us to resolve the problem without having to spend time in court. Unfortunately, the person wasn't willing to cooperate, so we ended up having to get the case settled in court.

Post 4

@JimmyT - I have had to go to small claims court one time when my landlord tried to claim I caused damage to an apartment. At least in my state, cases are usually heard by magistrates, but sometimes you will get a real judge.

At least for my case, I took a bunch of pictures before I moved out just in case something like this happened. Also, they sent me a copy of the bill, but they conveniently couldn't reproduce it in court and used another invoice instead. In short, they lost all their credibility, and I had proof that the damage wasn't mine, so it only took 25 minutes or so.

I assume that every state has their

own limits that you can sue for. Where I live the amount is $5000. I think most states have a similar number. I'm not sure what happens if you need to sue for more than that. Does it have to go to a criminal court? In that case there would have to be a trial I think.
Post 3

@letshearit - That is really interesting. I always wondered how the cases ended up on the show, because sometimes you will have cases involving people that aren't even from the state where the show is taped. I wonder how much the people get paid to come on the shows.

In a regular civil court, who presides over the case? Are there judges who just handle civil court cases, or do judges rotate between hearing criminal cases to small claims court? How long does the courtroom process usually take? Isn't there usually a limit on the amount you can sue someone for?

Post 2

@manykitties2 - What is interesting about the civil court cases on TV is that there aren't actually any real county court records that get made off of what you see on television. The litigants agree to drop their case and have it settled on the television show, where the amount of the settlement is added or subtracted from money they make in exchange for appearing.

I really think that the courts are busy places, so these television shows are a great place for the more frivolous cases out there to become fodder for entertainment. However, it's not so funny when petty cases are tying up taxpayer dollars in actual courts. Citizens should have respect for the daily business of the courts.

Post 1

There are so many TV shows these days that deal with civil court that it is getting a bit out of hand. Last week I saw three different shows, all about people getting divorced, and arguing over accidents.

I wonder if the cases that appear on TV actually have court records?

Judge Judy is probably one of the most famous judges on TV that deals with the legal aspect of things that would probably have been better off on a talk show. I always find it funny when people try to sue others for outrageous damages, when the situation clearly doesn't call for it. I suppose that is what entertainment has come to.

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