This is general information about completing and filing paperwork to file in court. If you want advice about your particular case, you should contact an attorney.
How do I file paperwork to go to court? Are there forms I can use?
Yes, there are forms you can use for many kinds of civil cases and family law cases. The Magistrate Clerk’s office has forms for cases filed in Magistrate Court. The Circuit Clerk’s office has forms for cases that go to Circuit Court and Family Court. You can go to the clerk’s office and tell them what your case is about. They can give you the forms you need to fill out.
You can also find the forms for free on the website for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals here. You can also contact Legal Aid of West Virginia and ask if we can send you the forms you need for free.
Does it cost money to file a case?
Yes, the court charges a fee to file your case. But, you may not have to pay those fees if you are low-income. Go here for more information about getting fees waived.
If I have trouble reading, is there someone who can help me with the forms?
The Clerk’s office can’t give you legal advice, but they may be able to answer questions about what the forms say. You can apply for help from Legal Aid of West Virginia to see if you qualify for help with filling out your forms. Or you can try these other legal resources. You could also take the forms home and ask your family or friends to read the forms to you.
What are the names of the parties in a case?
In family law cases, the person filing the case is called the petitioner. The other person is called the respondent.
In other civil cases, usually the person filing the case is called the plaintiff. The person being sued is called the defendant.
How do I fill out the forms?
You can handwrite on the forms. Before you fill out the forms, it is a good idea to look at the forms and read the instructions. If you can, make copies of the blank forms so that you can practice filling out one of the copies.
If you use forms on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals website, you can fill the forms out on the web page and then print them.
Many forms filed with a court must be signed in front of a notary public. DO NOT sign the forms at the end, until you are in front of a notary public. Keep reading this article to find out more information about notaries public.
Once you have completed the forms, you should try to make 3 copies of them. You will take the original and the 3 copies with you to file your case.
Where do I file the forms?
If your case is going to be in Magistrate Court, you go the Magistrate Clerk’s office. If your case is going to be in Family Court or Circuit Court, you go to the Circuit Clerk’s office.
Once I’ve filled out my forms, how do I get the forms notarized by a notary public?
Many forms filed with a court must be signed in front of a notary public. A notary public is someone who can witness a signature. In order for a notary to witness a document being signed, the signer must physically appear before the notary. The signer must provide a photo identification of herself to the notary. The signer must also say that she understands what she is signing and is willing to sign it. The signer must also swear that the contents of the document are true. If a document requires a notarized signature, do not sign it until you are in front of a notary public. The notary must watch you sign the document. Also be sure to bring some identification, like a driver’s license.
Notary services can often be found in court houses, libraries, banks, and print shops. Often, one of the clerks is a notary public. Sometimes these services are free; however, sometimes there is a charge. The maximum Notary Public Fee in WV is $5.00.
How do I notify the other person that I have filed a case against them?
When you file a case, the papers you filed to start the case have to be delivered, or “served,” on the other side. Then you have to give the court proof that this was done. This is called “service of process.” There are several ways that you can legally serve someone.
Personal Service. This means that someone personally hand-delivered the papers to the other side. Personal service can be done by any credible person over the age of 18 who is not involved in the case. You cannot serve the papers for your own case. Personal Service is the best form of Service of Process.
You can have the sheriff’s office serve the papers. This is usually the easiest method for most people. If you qualify for a fee waiver, you will not have to pay the costs for the sheriff’s office to serve the papers. If you do not qualify for a fee waiver, you will have to pay those costs.
Personal Service can also be done by someone other than the sheriff. You can hire a private investigator, or arrange for some other responsible adult to personally serve your papers.
The person who serves the papers must then sign a Return of Service form. This shows the date and time that the papers were delivered to the other side. The signed Return of Service must be filed with court clerk’s office. The clerk’s office may have Return of Service forms to give you.
Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. An alternative is using “certified mail, return receipt requested, delivery restricted.” Be sure to tell the Post Office that the named person MUST sign for the papers. If anyone else signs for the papers, this will not be valid for the court. You will need to file the return receipt and the envelope with the court file.
Voluntary Pick Up. A third method is easy, but requires cooperation from the other side. The other side simply goes to the clerk’s office and gets a copy there. The clerk will have the person sign a form saying that he or she received them.
“Voluntary Pick Up” avoids having a sheriff’s deputy or someone else go to the person’s workplace or home. It’s easier, and more private. But it means you must trust the other side to actually go to the clerk’s Office and sign for the papers.
Legal Publication. The last alternative is to put a legal ad in the newspaper. The ad has to describe the case and identify the person being sued. This is called “service by publication.” It is a last resort. Publication is used only if the person you are suing lives out of state or you don’t know how to locate them. This method of service cannot be used in all cases. This method of service may limit what you can get in the court case.
If the other side lives out of state, service of process can be more complicated. You should try to get help from a lawyer if this is the case. For cases that involve child support, the West Virginia Bureau for Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) may be able to help you locate a parent that is out of state. Contact your local BCSE office.
Finally, you should know that there are time limits for service. You have 120 days (4 months) to serve the other party after filing your court forms. If you don’t, then the judge can dismiss your case.
If I have to file an Answer, do I serve the papers the same way?
You can serve an Answer by mailing it to the person who sued you. You will still need to file a Certificate of Service with the clerk showing where you sent the papers. You can find a certificate of service form here.