How to Obtain Court Records in Tennessee
There are three non-trial courts of limited jurisdiction at the lowest level of the Tennessee judiciary: juvenile court, municipal court, and general sessions court. The juvenile and municipal courts handle matters of juvenile crime and delinquency, misdemeanors, traffic, and violations of municipal statutes. The general sessions court is somewhat more broad, with probate, small claims, domestic relations, and DUI under its purview.
Above this level are circuit courts and criminal courts, which are general trial courts (circuit is civil, criminal handles criminal cases). Probate courts are also at this level but are not trial courts as they handle guardianships, estates, wills, adoptions and the like. Chancery courts, also at this level, handle domestic relations (divorce, custody) and civil cases.
Above the trial courts are two intermediate courts of appeals, one which hears disputes of civil, administrative agency, and juvenile matters, and a second that handles criminal appeals (adult and juvenile).
The state supreme court is at the top of the state judiciary and the court of last resort. It takes some disputed decisions from the intermediate appellate courts and is the final arbiter of constitutionality of state laws.
Obtaining court records
Having a copy of a court document can be helpful if you’re called upon to prove your innocence, to show that you’ve paid a fine, to get a tenant evicted, or to clarify child custody. The state does not currently offer an online search of records, except for court of appeals and supreme court cases which may be searched starting here: https://www.tncourts.gov/courts/supreme-court/public-case-history. Try to narrow the options according to the court descriptions above and contact the clerk of the court that matches the case best by using this directory: http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/courts/court-clerks/clerks-list.
When a marriage ends in divorce, the decree is the legal document that spells out how children are cared for, whether alimony is paid, and the division of shared property. To get a copy of your decree, contact the clerk of the court where your divorce was granted using this list: http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/courts/court-clerks/clerks-list.
These records can be guardianship, adoption, mental health, or wills and estates. In Tennessee probate cases are heard in several different courts, so it’s best to contact the clerk of the court where the individual involved resided: http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/courts/court-clerks/clerks-list.
Keep in mind that some court documents are not released to the public due to the inclusion of confidential information such as crime victim’s names, juvenile case information, or medical histories.
When an individual or business is overwhelmed by debt, declaring bankruptcy may allow them to get back on their feet. Bankruptcy is handled by federal courts in each state, which are called U.S. District Courts. These courts also have jurisdiction over criminal trials and multi-state lawsuits. Start your search of these records with www.pacer.gov.