District of Columbia Courts Overview
It helps to understand how the District of Columbia state court system works when you’re trying to find court records. The District of Columbia trial court system consists of Civil Division, Criminal Division, Family Court, Domestic Violence Unit, Probate Division, and Tax Division.
The District of Columbia has a unified trial court system that consists only of Superior Courts. Superior Courts have general jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases, except for cases within exclusive Federal Court or United States District Court jurisdiction. Superior Courts have six main court divisions referred to as the Civil Division, the Criminal Division, the Family Court, the Domestic Violence Unit, the Probate Division and the Tax Division.
If you prefer, you can start your search by going to District of Columbia courts by county.
District of Columbia Superior CourtsSuperior Courts are organized into six main divisions: the Civil Division, the Criminal Division, the Family Court, the Domestic Violence Unit, the Probate Division and the Tax Division.
In addition to trial court divisions, there are several other Superior Court divisions that provide services and supervision for certain types of cases.
Superior Courts have a Social Services Division that handles probation supervision for juvenile delinquency cases and cases that are eligible for the Juvenile Drug Court.
Superior Courts also have a Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division, which handles cases referred from Superior Court for alternative dispute resolution,? including mediation and arbitration. There is also a Crime Victims Compensation Program that is considered part of the Superior Court as well.
There is an agency called The Court System that is described as part of the Washington D.C. judicial branch, but this is an administrative support office for all D.C. Courts and does not handle any cases.
District of Columbia Civil DivisionThe Civil Division has four branches: the Civil Actions Branch, the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch, the Landlord and Tenant Branch, and the Quality Review Branch.
1. The Civil Actions Branch handles civil cases with claims for more than $5,000, exclusive of interest, fees and costs, as well cases requesting equitable relief.
2. The Small Claims and Conciliation Branch handles cases with total claims for less than $5000 (not including interest, fees or costs) that also do not ask for equitable relief or involves certain issues about interests in real property.
3. The Landlord and Tenant Branch is primarily for eviction cases filed by landlords against tenants or other occupants of real property. Tenants have the right to make claims against their landlord after a case has been filed. In addition, tenants can file cases against their landlord in the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch if their claims total less than $5,000 and if they are not asking the Court to order the landlord do something, such as repair a health hazard. Tenants can file claims against the landlord in the Civil Actions Branch if their claims total more than $5,000 and if they are asking the Court to order the landlord to do anything. If a tenant is seeking repairs for their home, the Tenant can also call a Housing Inspector at the D.C. Rental Accommodations Office, file a petition and request a hearing.
4. The Quality Review Branch provides administrative support to the Civil Division and does not handle cases.
District of Columbia Criminal DivisionThe Criminal Division handles most criminal cases, including felony criminal cases, most misdemeanor cases and certain traffic cases.
Some misdemeanor criminal cases involving intra-family offenses? are handled by the Domestic Violence Unit, which is separate from the Criminal Division.
The Criminal Division also operates Community Courts, which handle some traffic cases and some misdemeanor cases in certain areas of Washington, D.C. Community Courts generally handle "quality of life"? misdemeanors, and have flexibility to impose court-supervised community service and referrals to social services.
District of Columbia Family CourtThe Family Court has four main branches: the Domestic Relations Branch, the Juvenile and Neglect Branch, the Paternity and Child Support Branch, and the Mental Health and Habilitation Branch.
1. The Domestic Relations Branch. Examples of cases handled by the Domestic Relation Branch include but are not limited to: divorce, legal separation, custody, guardianship, adoption, and termination of parental rights. In addition, this branch manages the Marriage Bureau Section.
2. The Juvenile and Neglect Branch. The Juvenile and Neglect Branch handles most cases involving juvenile delinquency, child abuse, and child neglect. This branch includes the Family Treatment Court, which is a program designed for eligible drug-dependent mothers charged with child neglect.
3. The Paternity and Child Support Branch handles cases involving paternity and child support.
4. The Mental Health and Habilitaion Branch handles cases including involuntary hospitalization, mental health treatment, and treatment for people with developmental delays.
Family Court also has a branch called The Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect (CCAN) that handles the assignment of attorneys in child abuse and neglect cases, and a Marriage Bureau that issues marriage licenses and minister authorizations and maintains marriage records.
District of Columbia Domestic Violence UnitThe Domestic Violence Unit is considered a "cross-jurisdictional unit"? that handles certain types of civil and criminal cases involving domestic violence or threats of domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Unit handles cases when parties are related to each other, including by blood, legal custody, marriage, having a child together, sharing a residence, or by a past or current dating relationship.
Criminal cases heard by the Domestic Violence Unit include violations of protection orders and some misdemeanor intra-family? offenses.
Civil cases heard by the Domestic Violence Unit include domestic violence protection orders. The Domestic Violence Unit may also handle some types of cases related to a domestic violence case, including divorce, child custody, visitation, paternity and child support.
Protection Order cases begin at Domestic Violence Intake Centers.
District of Columbia Probate DivisionThe Probate Division handles wills, estates, trusts, guardianships of minors, guardianships and conservatorships for incapacitated adults.
The Probate Division has an Office of the Register of Wills, which supervises the Auditing and Appraisals Branch and the Probate Operations Branch.
The Probate Operations Branch consists of the Small Estates Section, the Decedents Estates and Guardianship of Minors Section and the Interventions and Trusts Branch.
District of Columbia Tax DivisionThe Tax Division has exclusive jurisdiction to handle cases involving appeals and reviews of tax assessments and civil tax penalties, as well as criminal cases related to D.C. taxes.
Where to Find Court Cases in District of Columbia
The chart below gives general information on the types of cases heard in each type of District of Columbia court.
|Case Type||Court Type|
|Civil||Civil Division||Criminal Division||Family Court||Domestic Violence Unit||Probate Division||Tax Division|
|General Civil - Unlimited|
|General Civil - Limited|
|Foreclosures and Liens|
|Real Estate Title and Boundary|
|Landlord / Tenant|
|Protection, No Contact, and Restraining Orders|
|Administrative Agency Appeals|
|Criminal||Civil Division||Criminal Division||Family Court||Domestic Violence Unit||Probate Division||Tax Division|
|Felony Preliminary Hearings|
|Traffic and Infractions|
|Domestic Relations||Civil Division||Criminal Division||Family Court||Domestic Violence Unit||Probate Division||Tax Division|
|Child Custody and Visitation|
|Domestic Violence Protection Order|
|Juvenile||Civil Division||Criminal Division||Family Court||Domestic Violence Unit||Probate Division||Tax Division|
|Child Abuse and Neglect|
|Termination of Parental Rights|
|Children in Need of Supervision|
|Mental Health||Civil Division||Criminal Division||Family Court||Domestic Violence Unit||Probate Division||Tax Division|
|Other Mental Health Cases|
|Probate||Civil Division||Criminal Division||Family Court||Domestic Violence Unit||Probate Division||Tax Division|
|Wills & Estates|
|Guardianships and Conservatorships|