How do I get started?

In a civil case, the court is asked to decide a disagreement between two parties.  Civil cases are cases in court that are not about breaking criminal law.  Some examples are cases about family issues, such as divorce, child support or custody, and name changes; renting or leasing a place to live; contracts; and damage to property.

This page contains information about how to get started with a civil case.

  1. What laws apply? If you want to start a civil case, it would be best if you had a lawyer. However, if you have decided to represent yourself, the first thing you will need to do is figure out what laws apply to your case.
    • Research the law in a law library or public library if your county has one, or in the State Law Library, The State Law Library has a service called Ask a Librarian, where you can ask questions by email. Their toll-free phone number is 1-844-829-2843.
    • Talk to a lawyer to find out if the law supports filing your case or if there is another legal reason why you should or should not start a case.
    • Use TexasLawHelp.org to get information about different laws. Their free LiveHelp chat service allows you to chat with a lawyer or law student Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Qualifying users can get free legal advice. The service can also provide useful information and referrals to anyone.
  2. Start with a Petition.
    • A Petition tells the court what happened and what you want the court to do about it.
    • The person who files the Petition is called “Petitioner” in family law cases and “Plaintiff” in other types of civil cases.
    • The person who is being sued is called “Respondent” in family law cases or “Defendant” in other types of cases.
  3. Court staff cannot tell you the law; lawyers and TexasLawHelp can help you with the law. Remember that the court staff cannot tell you what the law is, how any particular law applies to your case, or whether your case is a good case. If you need help understanding the law that applies to your case, talk to a lawyer or use the TexasLawHelp LiveHelp chat service.