How to Obtain Court Records in Virginia
At the lowest level of the Virginia judiciary are magistrate courts, which conduct probable cause and bail hearings. Above the magistrates are district courts that may conduct trials for traffic and other misdemeanor violations as well as hear civil cases up to $25,000 in value. Also at the district court level is the juvenile and family court division which handles delinquency, divorce, custody, and parental rights.
The general trial court in Virginia is circuit court which has jurisdiction over most civil and criminal cases.
Virginia has an intermediate appellate court which handles disputed decisions of lower courts and state administrative agencies. At the top of the state judiciary is the supreme court, also an appellate court, which hears selected circuit and appeals court cases as well as oversees the state bar.
Getting court records
Many circumstances call for having a copy of a court decision or document on hand, including if you need to prove you’ve served a court-ordered term of probation, if you need to evict a tenant, if you need help getting a protective order enforced, or if you need to clarify terms of your divorce.
This page is a good place to start a search for the right court records: https://eapps.courts.state.va.us/gdcourts/caseSearch.do?welcomePage=welcomePage. Once you have the case number and court location, you may contact the clerk’s office in the court where the case was heard by using this directory: http://courts.state.va.us/directories/rule115.html.
Note that court records may be subject to confidentiality laws. If the records contain medical information, details about juveniles, or names of crime victims the information may not be released or may be censored.
Probate cases are heard by the circuit courts, considering issues of wills and estates, guardianships, and sometimes mental health. To research probate cases, start with the search function here: https://eapps.courts.state.va.us/gdcourts/caseSearch.do?welcomePage=welcomePage. Once you have the case number and location, contact the clerk of the court where the case was heard to request documents. This is a directory of courts: http://courts.state.va.us/directories/rule115.html.
If child custody, alimony, or shared property is an issue following a divorce, the decree that both parties signed at the time of the divorce will help clarify things. To get a copy of the document, contact the clerk of the court where the divorce was granted using this page: http://courts.state.va.us/directories/rule115.html.
When an individual or business faces debt he cannot pay, the solution is often filing for bankruptcy through U.S. District Court, which is a federal court with divisions in each state. These courts also handle criminal trials and certain civil lawsuits. Use www.pacer.gov to research federal court cases.