How the Court Works

How the Court Works

The legal system can be confusing if you are not familiar with how it works.  Explore the Representing Yourself section of this website to help you understand how Alabama’s court processes relate to your legal issue.  For information about what to expect when you go to court, see Get Ready for Court.  You may also want to learn about Ways Clerks Can and Cannot Help You if you are planning to represent yourself.

Alabama has three types of courts:

Courts of Limited Jurisdiction are made up of five courts:

  • Municipal courts handle violations of municipal ordinances and criminal misdemeanor offenses that take place in a city’s police jurisdiction
  • Probate courts deal with wills, estates, real property, mental illness, and adoption.
  • Small Claims courts handle civil matters when the amount of money in dispute is less than $3,000. You are allowed represent yourself in this court.
  • District courts handle criminal misdemeanor offenses and the preliminary hearings in felony prosecutions. District courts also have jurisdiction in civil matters where the amount in dispute is more than $3,000 but less than $10,000.
  • Juvenile courts handle both civil and criminal matters involving a person under the age of 18. Legal matters in Juvenile court are confidential.

Each county has a probate, small claims, district, and juvenile court.

Courts of General Jurisdiction include all of Alabama’s circuit courts. Each county has a circuit court that handles all felony, criminal matters and matters where the amount of money in dispute is more than $10,000, but they may also become involved in matters where the amount of money in dispute is more than $3,000. Circuit courts are also sometimes involved with legal matters filed in district or juvenile courts.

Courts of Appellate Jurisdiction review legal matters or cases for mistakes after they have been decided by one of the lower courts of limited or general jurisdiction. Alabama’s appellate courts are divided into three courts:

  •  The Court of Civil Appeals is made up of five judges and handles civil appeals when the amount of money in dispute is less than $50,000. This court also handles matters appealed from certain state administrative agencies. Last, it handles appeals in domestic relations matters, including annulment, divorce, alimony, child support, adoption, and child custody.
  • The Court of Criminal Appeals is made up of five judges. This court handles all appeals from misdemeanor and felony trails or convictions.
  • The Supreme Court of Alabama is made up of a chief justice and eight associate justices. The Supreme Court of Alabama is Alabama’s highest court. It has authority to review decisions made by any of Alabama’s lower courts, and it can review cases when the amount of money in dispute is more than $50,000.

Adapted from Alabama’s Court System published by the Alabama State Bar