How to Obtain Court Records in Pennsylvania
In most parts of Pennsylvania, the entry-level court is a magisterial district court, which handles traffic violations, landlord-tenant disputes, misdemeanors, and small claims cases up to $12,000. There is one magisterial district court in each county in the state. In Philadelphia and Pittsburg, the equivalent is the municipal court.
Courts of common pleas are the trial courts of Pennsylvania, handling civil cases above $7,000 and most criminal matters as well as family court (divorce, juvenile) and appeals of magisterial district court decisions.
The superior court is the first of two levels of appellate courts, hearing disputed decisions of courts of common pleas. The other appellate court is the commonwealth court, which hears appeals of state administrative agency decisions as well as some appeals of courts of common pleas decisions. It also may hold civil trials that involve the state or which involve elections issues.
The state supreme court hears appeals of selected cases and acts as the final arbiter of constitutionality regarding state laws.
Requesting court records
If you need a protection order enforced, child custody clarified, a settlement paid, a tenant evicted, or proof that you’ve completed your probation or parole, having official court documents can be important.
To search for case numbers or party names, use this page: https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets.aspx. To request official documents, contact the clerk of the court where the case was heard by using this directory: http://www.pacourts.us/courts/minor-courts/magisterial-district-judges/.
When a couple divorces, the decree is the agreement that spells out how the property will be divided, how children will be cared for, any alimony that should be paid, and if a party’s name will be changed. To get a copy of your divorce decree, contact the clerk of the court of common pleas where the divorce was granted using this directory: http://www.pacourts.us/courts/courts-of-common-pleas/.
The liquidation of property and assets of a person who dies are generally overseen by a probate judge, who ensures that taxes are paid and heirs are properly notified and remunerated. Probate courts often have jurisdiction over adoption, guardianships, and sometimes juvenile matters as well. To research these records, find the Register of Wills or Orphan’s Court in the county where the person lived.
When an individual is overwhelmed by debt he may choose to declare bankruptcy, which is a multi-month or multi-year process overseen by federal courts, not state courts. Each state has a U.S. District Court, which has jurisdiction over bankruptcies as well as some criminal trials and civil lawsuits that cross state lines. To learn more or search for records, go to www.pacer.gov.