This is general information about what you might want to think about before filing a court case. If you want advice about your particular case, you should contact a lawyer.
What kind of case do I have?
Knowing what type of case or issue you have is a very important first step. The information on Legal Aid of West Virginia’s website is only about civil cases, not criminal cases. It is important to understand the different between civil cases and criminal cases.
Criminal cases usually involve a person being “charged” with a crime and the case is between the State of West Virginia or the United States of America and the person.
Civil cases are usually between two or more people. Some examples of civil cases include divorce, child support, custody, contract issues, or a problem with a landlord. Again, the information on Legal Aid’s website is only about civil cases.
Can I handle my issue without going to court?
Court cases take time, cost money and may cause some stress in your life. You may want to think about whether you can handle the problem outside of court. It just depends on the problem you are having and the other person involved. Sometimes you may be able to talk to the other person and come to an agreement. If you do, make sure to put it in writing, sign it and have the other party sign it. Or before filing a case, you might try to send a letter to the other person, with what you expect to be done and give them a reasonable time to do it.
You may also want to talk to a lawyer about your options. Sometimes a lawyer will talk to you about your options for just a small fee, even if you do not have enough money to hire the lawyer to go to court with you. You can also see if you are eligible for free legal help by applying to Legal Aid of West Virginia. Or you can try these other legal resources.
Can I go to court without a lawyer?
Yes. You have a right to represent yourself in court. In fact, many people represent themselves in Magistrate Court and Family Court. Circuit Court has more strict rules. It can be difficult to represent yourself in Circuit Court, but people do.
Should I go to court without a lawyer?
It is a good idea to at least talk to a lawyer about your case if possible. Some cases are fairly simple and can be handled without a lawyer. Others involve complicated procedures and legal issues that require the training of a lawyer.
Again, sometimes a lawyer will talk to you about your case for just a small fee, even if you do not have enough money to hire the lawyer to go to court with you. You can also see if you are eligible for free legal assistance by applying for help from Legal Aid of West Virginia. Legal Aid advocates can’t go to court with everyone that qualifies for help, but we try to give information and advice to everyone who qualifies. Or you can try these other legal resources.
If you decide to go to court on your own, you will need to understand how the court system works and what will be expected of you. You should do research. You can also ask court staff for information about how the court system works. Click here to find contact information for courts in your county.
What if I need extra help because of a disability or language barrier?
Everyone has a right to come to court and participate in the legal system. If you or anyone participating in your case needs special arrangements, contact the clerk of the court where you filed your case. Click here to find contact information for the clerk in your county.
The clerk should be able to help arrange what you need—things like a courtroom that is wheelchair accessible, a sign language interpreter or a translator. Be sure to contact the clerk as soon as possible, so they have time to make the arrangements. If you have trouble making the arrangements, you can call the Administrative Office of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals at 304-558-0145.
Do I file my case where I live?
It depends. You must decide which county or state is right for your case. Cases are often filed in the county and state where one or both of the parties live. But this isn’t true for all cases. And different states have different laws. Where you file your case could affect the outcome of your case, especially in a divorce or child support case. It may mean that the court can’t deal with all of the issues in your case.
If you need help deciding what county and state your case should be filed in, you should talk to a lawyer.
How do I know which kind of court to go to?
It depends on the issues in your case and the amount of money involved. If it is a family law issue, like divorce, child support or custody, your case belongs in Family Court. If it is another kind of civil case and the financial amount in dispute is less than $10,000 then you likely go to Magistrate Court. For more information about going to Magistrate Court, click here. If it is a civil case and the amount in dispute is more than $10,000, then you likely need to go to Circuit Court.
You can find more information about the different kinds of courts in West Virginia here.