Overview of Texas Courts
In order to find Texas court records, it's helpful to understand how the state court system works. Each state varies and we've compiled this information to help your search. You can also start your search by going directly to courts by county.
The Texas trial court system consists of District Courts, Criminal District Court, Constitutional County Courts, County Courts at Law, Statutory Probate Courts, Justice Courts, and Municipal Courts.
The Texas trial court system has four broad categories of trial courts known as District Courts, County Courts, Justice Courts and Municipal Courts. District Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases, but typically only handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts. County Courts, Justice Courts and Municipal Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of cases. Due to the complexity of the distribution of jurisdiction between Texas trial courts, jurisdiction over cases can vary greatly from court to court.
In sparsely populated areas, a single District Court may serve several counties. In densely populated areas, a single county may be served by several District Courts. A District Court in a densely populated area may specialize in a certain type of cases such as civil, criminal, juvenile, or family. The fact that a court specializes in a certain type of case may or may not be reflected in its name; for example, a court that specializes in family law cases may or may not be named a Family District Court. Specialization by a District Court does not limit its general jurisdiction as granted by the Texas Constitution.
Civil cases heard by District Courts include divorce, most disputes over title to land, requests for enforcement of liens on land, election disputes, slander, defamation, certain civil cases brought by the State and general civil claims beyond the jurisdiction of other courts.
Specific types of civil cases handled by a District Court may include motor vehicle (including personal injury, property damage or wrongful death), personal injury, property damage or wrongful death, workers compensation, tax disputes, eminent domain and condemnation, contracts, child support cases involving other states, divorce, annulment, adoption, name change, termination of parental rights, child protection cases, judicial consent for minors, voluntary legitimation, protection orders, juvenile delinquency, children in need of supervision, probate matters, wills, trusts, mental health cases, guardianships, and habeas corpus.
District Courts may also handle contested probate cases, domestic violence or sexual assault protective orders, and cases requesting injunctive relief. Some District Courts share jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases generally handled by Constitutional County Courts or County Courts at Law.
Criminal cases heard by District Courts include felonies, lesser-included offenses and certain types of misdemeanors, including official misconduct.
Some District Courts may be referred to as Criminal District Courts, which generally means that the District Court is exercising jurisdiction primarily over criminal cases but retains general jurisdiction over all types of cases.
Only one Criminal District Court, in Jefferson County, has had its jurisdiction limited by the Texas Legislature to criminal, divorce, dependent and delinquent children, adoption, and habeas corpus proceedings. The other twelve Criminal District Courts have been instructed to give preference to criminal cases, although they still retain general jurisdiction.
Criminal cases heard by Criminal District Court may be similar to the types of criminal cases heard by County Courts at Law, including preliminary hearings for all types of criminal cases and trials for most misdemeanors.
Some District Courts may be referred to as Criminal District Courts, but it is a reference to a court primarily handling criminal cases in a densely populated area.
Constitutional County Courts have original jurisdiction over probate cases in most counties, although contested probate cases may be transferred to District Court. In counties with large metropolitan areas, Statutory Probate Courts have original jurisdition over probate cases.
Criminal cases heard by Constitutional County Courts include misdemeanors punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or by a jail sentence of not more than one year. Constitutional County Courts also have jurisdiction over juvenile matters in most counties. Constitutional County Courts may exercise exclusive jurisdiction over some misdemeanors and may share jurisdiction over certain types of cases with Justice Courts, other County Courts and District Courts.
Constitutional County Courts may also handle domestic violence or sexual assault protective orders.
Constitutional County Courts also handle administrative duties for county government through a County Commissioners Court, which only has authority related to the governance of the county and is not a trial court. The County Judge presides over the Commissioners Court and has judicial responsibilities in most counties.
In counties with large populations and greater administrative needs, the Legislature created County Courts at Law and Statutory Probate Courts to handle certain types of civil and criminal cases within Constitutional County Court jurisdiction. In some counties, the County Judge and Commissioners Court may have no judicial duties.
The types of cases handled by County Courts at Law vary by court, and depend on the jurisdiction conferred upon each specific court by the Legislature. County Court at Law jurisdiction may include some or all of the types of cases within the jurisdiction of Constitutional County Courts.
Criminal cases heard by County Courts at Law include misdemeanors, including exclusive jurisdiction over some misdemeanors that do not have a potential penalty of incarceration. Some County Courts at Law may have jurisdiction over felonies. County Courts at Law may also handle violations of health or safety ordinances.
Civil cases heard by County Courts at Law include general civil claims for less than $100,000 and more than $500, and cases involving eminent domain or workers compensation. County Courts at Law may also handle wills, trusts, mental health proceedings, guardianships, divorce, child custody, child support, juvenile matters and domestic violence or sexual assault protective orders.
Statutory Probate Courts exercise jurisdiction that is generally different than the jurisdiction of County Courts at Law, although some County Courts at Law handle some probate cases.
County Courts at Law may share jurisdiction with District Courts, Constitutional County Courts, and Statutory Probate Courts.
Cases heard by Statutory Probate Courts include the probate of wills, the administration of estates, guardianships, mental health proceedings and some civil cases related to the administration of estates.
Statutory Probate Courts may share some jurisdiction over probate matters with District Courts and other County Courts.
Criminal cases heard by Justice Courts include preliminary hearings, some traffic misdemeanors and some misdemeanors without potential penalties of incarceration.
Civil cases heard by Justice Courts include general civil claims within financial limits, small claims, forcible entry and detainer, foreclosures of mortgages and enforcement of some liens on personal property.
Some Justice Courts may share some jurisdiction with Constitutional County Courts and County Courts at Law. Every county has at least one Justice Court, but there may be several in a particular county.
Criminal cases heard by a Municipal Court may include municipal ordinance violations, felony preliminary hearings, some misdemeanors and some cases related to forfeitures and final judgments of bail bonds or personal bonds. Municipal Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over most violations of city ordinances, and may share jurisdiction over misdemeanors with Justice Courts.
Civil cases heard by Municipal Courts are generally limited to some cases involving the ownership of dangerous dogs. A Municipal Court may exercise jurisdiction over other types of civil cases under certain circumstances.
If a Municipal Court is created by local law, it may be a court of record and may exercise additional jurisdiction over additional ordinance violations, civil cases and criminal matters. Municipal Courts of record may share additional jurisdiction with District Courts or County Courts over the enforcement of health, safety or nuisance abatement ordinances.
Each incorporated city in Texas has at least one Municipal Court. Some cities or towns will create a Municipal Court under local laws instead of having a Municipal Court created by the Texas Legislature.
Many Texas courts have local Specialty Court or Problem Solving Court programs that provide treatment and social services in lieu of incarceration for some non-violent offenders with substance abuse or mental health problems. Types of programs include Drug Courts, DWI Courts, Mental Health Courts, Veterans Courts, Reentry Courts, Co-Occurring Disorder Courts, and Prostitution Courts. These "courts" are actually special programs of courts with criminal jurisdiction, including District Courts, Criminal District Courts, Constitutional County Courts, and County Courts at Law.
|Case Type||Court Type|
|Civil||District Courts||Criminal District Court||Constitutional County Courts||County Courts at Law||Statutory Probate Courts||Justice Courts||Municipal Courts|
|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||District Courts||Criminal District Court||Constitutional County Courts||County Courts at Law||Statutory Probate Courts||Justice Courts||Municipal Courts|
|Felony Preliminary Hearings|
|Traffic and Infractions|
|Domestic Relations||District Courts||Criminal District Court||Constitutional County Courts||County Courts at Law||Statutory Probate Courts||Justice Courts||Municipal Courts|
|Child Custody and Visitation|
|Domestic Violence Protection Order|
|Juvenile||District Courts||Criminal District Court||Constitutional County Courts||County Courts at Law||Statutory Probate Courts||Justice Courts||Municipal Courts|
|Child Abuse and Neglect|
|Termination of Parental Rights|
|Children in Need of Supervision|
|Mental Health||District Courts||Criminal District Court||Constitutional County Courts||County Courts at Law||Statutory Probate Courts||Justice Courts||Municipal Courts|
|Other Mental Health Cases|
|Probate||District Courts||Criminal District Court||Constitutional County Courts||County Courts at Law||Statutory Probate Courts||Justice Courts||Municipal Courts|
|Wills & Estates|
|Guardianships and Conservatorships|