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Finding Court Records in Tennessee

Tennessee Courts Overview

It helps to understand how the Tennessee state court system works when you’re trying to find court records. The Tennessee trial court system consists of Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts, Criminal Courts, General Sessions Courts, Juvenile Courts, Probate Courts, and Municipal Courts.

The Tennessee trial court system generally consists of four types of general jurisdiction courts and three types of limited jurisdiction courts. Jurisdiction over cases is determined by Private Acts of the Tennessee Legislature, and varies by court, case type, and county. The general jurisdiction courts are Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts, Criminal Courts, and Probate Courts, and these courts generally handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of limited jurisdiction courts. The courts with limited jurisdiction are General Sessions Courts, Municipal Courts, and Juvenile Courts.

Additional types of courts may be created in individual counties by Private Acts, and may share jurisdiction with other courts in that county. Private Acts will also specify whether these courts have their own clerks, or designate the clerk as Clerk of Circuit Court, Clerk and Master of Chancery Court, or County Clerk. For example, Cumberland County has a Probate and Family Court, which shares probate and juvenile jurisdiction with Chancery Court and shares family jurisdiction with Circuit Court; the Clerk and Master of Chancery Court is the clerk for Cumberland County Probate and Family Court.

If you prefer, you can start your search by going to Tennessee Courts by County.

Tennessee Circuit Courts

Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases, and share jurisdiction over certain types of cases with other courts. If no court has jurisdiction over a case, it will be heard by Circuit Court.

Circuit Courts and Criminal Courts share original jurisdiction over all criminal cases. In districts that have Criminal Courts, Circuit Courts will generally not exercise jurisdiction over criminal cases.

Circuit Courts share jurisdiction with Chancery Courts over divorce, adoption, arbitration, the release and appointment of trustees, trustee petitions or probate proceedings for the sale of property, partition and distribution of real or personal property, name changes, paternity, and cases for the abatement of nuisances.

Circuit Courts may hear cases of an equitable nature if no objection is raised, and Circuit Courts will have the powers of a Chancery Court if an equity case is heard in Circuit Court.

Circuit Courts share civil jurisdiction with Chancery Courts for most general civil cases. Chancery Courts may not handle cases with claims for certain kinds of unliquidated damages, but Chancery Courts may hear most types of civil cases if no objection is raised.

Circuit Courts share jurisdiction with General Sessions Courts over most contract cases within the financial limits of General Sessions Court jurisdiction and some civil cases without financial limit, including cases of forcible entry and detainer and cases for the recovery of personal property.

Circuit Courts share jurisdiction over domestic relations cases with some General Sessions Courts.

Circuit Courts also exercise jurisdiction over disputes about the validity of a will and cases related to arbitration. Circuit Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases for the restoration of citizenship.

Tennessee Chancery Courts

Chancery Courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over most cases of an equitable nature and generally handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts. Chancery Courts share jurisdiction over certain types of civil cases with other courts.

Chancery Courts share jurisdiction with Circuit Courts over most civil cases. Chancery Courts do not handle cases with certain kinds of unliquidated damages, but a Chancery Court may hear most civil cases if no objection is raised.

Circuit Courts may hear cases of an equitable nature if no objection is raised, and Circuit Courts will have the powers of a Chancery Court if an equity case is heard in Circuit Court.

Chancery Courts share jurisdiction with Circuit Courts over divorce, adoption, arbitration, the release and appointment of trustees, trustee petitions or probate proceedings for the sale of property, partition and distribution of real or personal property, paternity, name changes, and the abatement of nuisances. Chancery Courts have some jurisdiction over the appointment of administrators to a decedent's estate under certain circumstances. In some counties, Chancery Courts have jurisdiction over the probate of wills, administration of estates, and all aspects of guardianships and conservatorships.

Chancery Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases filed by the State against corporations, certain types of requests by creditors, and cases involving disputes over the boundaries of land.

Tennessee Criminal Courts

Criminal Courts are created by Private Acts in certain Judicial Circuits, which may include one or several counties. By law, Criminal Courts share jurisdiction over criminal cases with Circuit Courts, but Circuit Courts will generally not exercise jurisdiction over criminal cases in districts that have Criminal Courts.

Tennessee General Sessions Courts

General Session Courts have jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases. Levels of jurisdiction for General Sessions Courts are determined by Private Acts and vary from county to county.

Criminal cases heard by General Sessions Court include preliminary hearings in all criminal cases, misdemeanor trials when a jury has been waived, and most violations of municipal ordinances. In some counties, jurisdiction over misdemeanors is exclusive. General Sessions Courts may share some jurisdiction over municipal violations with a Municipal Court.

Civil cases heard by General Sessions Court include some general civil cases without financial limit, such as forcible entry and detainer and the recovery of personal property. Jurisdiction is limited for other types of general civil and equity cases to claims for less than $25,000, exclusive of attorney fees and costs.

General Sessions Courts also handle restraining orders and the enforcement of restraining orders. Some complex or expensive cases may be transferred to a general jurisdiction court.

All General Sessions Courts have jurisdiction to grant some injunctive relief. General Sessions Courts may handle cases that include nonsupport, probate matters, juvenile matters, or mental health proceedings. Some General Sessions Courts may handle divorce, domestic relations, or workers compensation cases. General Sessions Courts handle juvenile cases in counties without a separate Juvenile Court.

Some General Sessions Courts have a Mental Health Court division, for cases filed under the Mental Health Law and cases involving involuntary commitments.

General Sessions Courts exercise jurisdiction previously granted to justices of the peace for civil and criminal cases.

Tennessee Juvenile Courts

A Juvenile Court is a division of General Sessions Court, unless a county or municipality has established a separate Juvenile Court by Private Act or municipal charter.

Whether a Juvenile Court operates as a court division or separate court, it has exclusive jurisdiction over most juvenile delinquency and other juvenile cases, including juvenile dependency, child abuse and neglect, minors alleged to be unruly, and judicial consent to employment or military enlistment.

Criminal cases heard by Juvenile Courts include certain violations of parental responsibilities by parents or guardians. Juvenile Courts share jurisdiction with General Sessions Court over the offense of contributing to the delinquency or unruly conduct of a child. Some juvenile delinquency cases involving certain types of crimes are transferred to other courts to prosecute the juvenile as an adult. Juvenile Courts have jurisdiction over juvenile traffic offenses, but may transfer these cases to Municipal Courts.

Juvenile Courts also share jurisdiction over some cases with Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts and Probate Courts. Juvenile Courts share jurisdiction with Circuit Courts and Chancery Courts over paternity cases, custody and other related matters to children of unmarried parents, and cases arising from the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. Juvenile Courts share jurisdiction over child support with other courts that generally handles child support cases.

Juvenile Courts share jurisdiction with Probate Courts over the treatment or commitment of a child with a developmental delay or mental illness, some cases involving guardianship of a child, and judicial consent to marriage. Juvenile Courts share jurisdiction with Chancery Courts over cases involving termination of parental or guardianship rights. Juvenile Courts may transfer domestic relations cases to Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts, or General Sessions Court.

Juvenile Courts may have a Teen Court division for certain types of juvenile delinquency cases, including assault, burglary, theft of property, vandalism, forgery, unauthorized use of a vehicle, disorderly conduct, harassment, traffic offenses, runaways, truancy, curfew violations, and some drug offenses.

The cities of Bristol and Johnson City have established their own local Juvenile Courts, separate from the county system.

Tennessee Probate Courts

Chancery Courts exercise probate jurisdiction in most counties, and may have a separate Probate Court division. In Davidson County, a Public Act confers probate jurisdiction on a division of Circuit Court. Separate Probate Courts may be created by Private Acts in some counties.

Private Acts in some counties have conferred probate jurisdiction on General Sessions Courts. Private Acts in some counties have conferred jurisdiction over some routine probate matters on the Clerk and Master instead of a judge.

Probate Courts generally have jurisdiction over the probate of wills, the administration of estates, guardianships, and conservatorships. Depending on the provisions of the Private Act, a Probate Court may share jurisdiction over certain types of cases with the county's Chancery Court, Circuit Court, or General Sessions Court.

Tennessee Municipal Courts

Municipal Courts may also be called City Courts or Town Courts. Municipal Court jurisdiction varies from city to city, including the levels of fines and incarceration a particular Municipal Court can impose.

Municipal Courts generally handle most municipal ordinance violations and certain types of criminal cases. Some Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over some municipal ordinances that mirror state criminal laws, including driving without a license, reckless driving, and underage alcohol offenses. Other Municipal Courts do not have jurisdiction over municipal ordinances that mirror certain violations of state law, if a General Sessions Court has jurisdiction over the case.

Some Municipal Courts have General Sessions Court jurisdiction within the limits of their municipality.

Municipal Courts may handle juvenile traffic violations if jurisdiction is waived by a juvenile judge. The cities of Bristol and Johnson City have established their own local Juvenile Courts, separate from the county system.

Tennessee Court Notes

In many counties, courts that handle criminal, abuse, neglect, or dependency cases may have a Recovery Court program for eligible defendants with substance abuse or mental health problems. These programs impose closely monitored treatment in lieu of incarceration, and may include adult and juvenile Drug Courts, Family Treatment Courts, Mental Health Treatment Courts, DUI Courts, and Veterans Treatment Courts.

Where to Find Court Cases in Tennessee

The chart below gives general information on the types of cases heard in each type of Tennessee court.

Most Cases = Most or all cases.     Some Cases = Some cases.

Case Type Court Type
Civil Circuit Courts Chancery Courts Criminal Courts General Sessions Courts Juvenile Courts Probate Courts Municipal Courts
General Civil - Unlimited Most or All Cases Some Cases          
General Civil - Limited Some Cases Some Cases   Most or All Cases      
Small Claims       Most or All Cases      
Civil Equity Some Cases Most or All Cases          
Complex Commercial Some Cases Some Cases          
Foreclosures and Liens Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases      
Real Estate Title and Boundary Some Cases Most or All Cases       Some Cases  
Landlord / Tenant Some Cases Some Cases   Most or All Cases      
Ordinance Violations       Some Cases     Some Cases
Protection, No Contact, and Restraining Orders Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases     Some Cases
Administrative Agency Appeals Most or All Cases     Some Cases Some Cases    
Criminal Circuit Courts Chancery Courts Criminal Courts General Sessions Courts Juvenile Courts Probate Courts Municipal Courts
Felony Some Cases   Some Cases        
Felony Preliminary Hearings Some Cases   Some Cases Some Cases      
Misdemeanors Some Cases   Some Cases Most or All Cases Some Cases   Some Cases
Ordinance Violations     Some Cases Some Cases     Some Cases
Juvenile       Most or All Cases Most or All Cases   Some Cases
Traffic and Infractions       Some Cases     Some Cases
Domestic Relations Circuit Courts Chancery Courts Criminal Courts General Sessions Courts Juvenile Courts Probate Courts Municipal Courts
Divorce Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases      
Child Custody and Visitation Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases Some Cases    
Child Support Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases Some Cases    
Paternity Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases Some Cases    
Domestic Violence Protection Order Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases      
Juvenile Circuit Courts Chancery Courts Criminal Courts General Sessions Courts Juvenile Courts Probate Courts Municipal Courts
Adoptions Some Cases Some Cases          
Juvenile Delinquency       Most or All Cases Most or All Cases   Some Cases
Child Abuse and Neglect       Most or All Cases Most or All Cases    
Termination of Parental Rights Some Cases Some Cases   Most or All Cases Most or All Cases    
Children in Need of Supervision       Most or All Cases Most or All Cases    
Mental Health Circuit Courts Chancery Courts Criminal Courts General Sessions Courts Juvenile Courts Probate Courts Municipal Courts
Involuntary Commitments   Some Cases   Some Cases Some Cases Some Cases  
Other Mental Health Cases Some Cases Some Cases Some Cases Some Cases Some Cases Some Cases  
Probate Circuit Courts Chancery Courts Criminal Courts General Sessions Courts Juvenile Courts Probate Courts Municipal Courts
Wills & Estates Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases   Some Cases  
Name Changes Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases   Some Cases  
Trusts Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases   Some Cases  
Guardianships and Conservatorships Some Cases Some Cases   Some Cases Some Cases Some Cases  

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