These messages only provide general information. If you have questions about your own situation, you should talk to a lawyer. For information about applying for Legal Aid, go to the Apply for Help page.
Suppose you want to file a case in court. There are forms you can use for most kinds of civil cases and family law cases. The Circuit Clerk’s office has forms for cases that go to Circuit Court and Family Court. The Magistrate Clerk’s office has forms for cases filed in Magistrate 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. Go to www.courtswv.gov. On the front page, click on the link called “Court Forms.” You can also contact Legal Aid and ask if we can send you the forms you need for free.
If you use forms on the Supreme Court website, you can fill the forms out on the web page and then print them. Or you can always print out the forms and handwrite your information.
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.
Do I have to pay the filing fee?
If you cannot afford to pay the filing fees for your court case you might be able to get those fees waived. To do this you have to file a “Fee Waiver Form.” You can get this form from any circuit or magistrate court clerk or by printing it from the West Virginia Supreme Court’s website. You can also contact Legal Aid and ask if we can send you the Fee Waiver Form for free.
To get to the form on the West Virginia Supreme Court website, go to www.courtswv.gov. On the front page, click on the link called “Court Forms.” A list will appear with a link to “Fee Waiver Forms. ” Click on that link and you will see a short list of links including the one to the fee waiver form. You can fill the form out on the web page and then print it.
To fill out the form you will need information about your income, your bills, and things you own. It is a good idea to look at the form before you fill it out and then gather any information you need that you do not have. Be honest when you fill out the form. The form is a sworn statement and lying on it is perjury.
You will need to provide a copy of your most recent pay stub or other statement of your income. You should black out your social security number and birth date if they are on your pay stub or statement. You must have this pay stub or other statement or the clerk will tell you the form is incomplete. If you have no income there is place on the form to explain that.
Do not sign the form when you fill it out. It must be signed in front of a notary or court clerk. Take the complete, but unsigned form, with your pay stub or other income statement, to the court clerk where you want to file your case and sign it in front of the clerk.
The clerk will check if you qualify for the fee waiver. If you do qualify, but your income goes up during your case, you must make the court aware of the change.
If you do not qualify the clerk will inform you of that as well. If think the clerk has made a mistake you can ask for his or her decision to be reviewed by a judge. You will need to fill out a separate form to request that. That form is also available from the clerk’s office or the West Virginia Supreme Court website. It is called a “Motion for Review.”
For more information about filing a fee waiver read this article.
How do I get my court 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 Magistrate or Circuit 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.
For more information about filing out court paperwork read this article.
Service of Process
When you file a law suit, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Finally, you should know that if the other side lives out of state, service of process can be more complicated. You may want to try to seek legal help if this is the case.
For more information about filing out court paperwork and notifying the other side read this article.
What do I bring to court?
You need to bring everything you need to prove your case. This is called “evidence.” Evidence can be in two forms: (1) witnesses or people and (2) papers or pictures.
Witnesses are people who are called into the hearing to testify. Witnesses can be people involved in the lawsuit, like yourself. Witnesses can also be other people who have direct information about the case, like people who saw what happened with their own eyes or heard it happen with their own ears. Finally, witnesses can be people who keep certain records or experts qualified to give an opinion about some part of the case.
It is your responsibility to ask questions for the witness to answer. Before the hearing, talk to your witnesses. Make sure you know what they will say if you ask them questions. You should outline questions to ask your witnesses. Be sure to keep your questions short and relevant.
Evidence that is paper or a picture can be any paper or picture that helps your case. It might be a lease, or a deed, or medical records, or phone records, or a picture of a bruise left on you. The person who took a picture must come to court with you as a witness. You should bring three copies of all paper or picture evidence. You will give one copy to the judge, one copy to the other side, and keep one copy for you.
For more information about preparing for a hearing read this article.
If you need papers or pictures but the person who has the papers or pictures will not give them to you, you may need a “subpoena.” A subpoena is a written command by the court that the person with the papers or pictures must give them to you. You can also get a subpoena if you need a person to testify as a witness but that person says they will not come to court.
You can find subpoena forms by asking the Magistrate or Circuit Clerk’s office or on the website for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. To get to the form, go to www.courtswv.gov. On the front page, click on the link called “Court Forms.”
The subpoena will have to be signed by a judge or the clerk of the court where your case is filed. Also, the subpoena must be “served” on the person. This means it must be personally given to the person you want to come testify. A subpoena may be served by any person who is not a party and is not less than 18 years of age. A Return of Service form must be completed proving that the person received the subpoena and filed in the case file in the clerk’s office.
Advice for getting ready for your hearing
- Don’t wait until the last minute: It takes a lot of time to make sure you have everything you need for court. Remember it is your job to prove your case to the judge. Unless you have a lawyer, no one else will be there to prove your case for you.
- Make a good impression. If you dress nicely, this tells the judge that you respect the courtroom and care about your case. But you don’t have to buy new clothes to go to court. Just wear what you would put on for a job interview or going to church. Do not chew gum. Turn your cell phone off or put it on silent.
- Be respectful: Be respectful to everyone in court. Try to stay calm. Talk only to the judge. Do not argue with or interrupt the judge, the other party, or an attorney. Each side will be given an opportunity to be heard.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up: Do not depend on the judge to remember everything you have asked for. If something has been overlooked, tell the judge. Also, if you do not understand something, speak up. Say that you do not understand and someone will try to explain it to you.
- Behave professionally. Do not slam pens, papers, or doors. Do not laugh, sigh loudly, or make faces. The judge will be observing and behavior impacts credibility.
- Arrive early: Be at the courthouse at least 10 minutes before your hearing is set to start. Make sure that you are outside the right courtroom. Some cases may longer than expected, so be prepared to wait.
- Tell your story: Be prepared to tell the judge in a few brief sentences what your case is about and how you plan to prove the facts of your case. Lawyers call this an opening statement.
- Read the paperwork filed in the case: You should read every paper you have filed with the Court. You should also read every paper the other side has filed with the Court. You need to know what is in those papers. You should bring copies of every paper you have filed with the Court to your hearing.
- Come prepared: Bring at least three copies of any evidence you plan to use. Write out the questions you plan to ask and go over them with your witnesses before the hearing.
For more information about what to expect at a hearing read this article.