When you are preparing for a court case, understanding a bit about how the system works can take some of the anxiety out of the process.  If you’ve never been to a courthouse, you should know a few general things. You’ll need to be prepared to show your picture ID and go through metal detectors and security, where any bags that you have will be searched and/or x-rayed, ver similar to the security you’ll find at an airport. However, most courtrooms do not allow electronic devices, so you may be wise to leave your phone at home or somewhere safe.

Most people in Miami will initially be visiting either a county court or a circuit court. The Miami-Dade County Court handles smaller issues, like monetary claims of less than $5,000 (small claims court), traffic issues, misdemeanor offenses, and some family court issues like simplified divorces, name changes, and guardianship issues. The 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Miami is the next step up and handles more complex issues that a county court is not equipped to handle.

The 11th Circuit has eight different divisions:

    • Civil: cases with damages in excess of $15K, product liability, malpractice, intellectual property, contract, and tort cases
    • Criminal: cases for major criminal (or felony) offenses that hold a punishment of imprisonment of more than one year or death
    • Family: dissolutions of marriage (or divorce), child custody and support, adoptions, paternity, modifications of existing family court orders, name changes, and domestic violence issues
    • Probate & Guardianship: estates, guardianships, mental health issues, substance abuse petitions, adult protective services, and cases related to developmental disabilities
    • Traffic
    • Domestic Violence: cases that are exclusively related to family violence, including protection orders, violation of injunctions, criminal misdemeanor, and risk protection orders
    • Appellate: appeals from county court and from administrative agencies and boards
    • Unified Children’s Court: family law cases that cross over between family, juvenile delinquency and dependency, and domestic violence

The 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida may hear cases in one of ten South Florida locations, but the family division hears cases in the Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse Center. The Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse sits on NW 1st Avenue, in the heart of downtown Miami. The courthouse is across the street from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse and close to the Miami-Dade County Commissioner’s office.


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