Video from the Maryland Access to Justice Commission
- Evaluate My Situation
- Find Alternatives to Court
- Find Court and Legal Forms
- Research the Law
- File a Case
- Prepare for My Day in Court
- Appeal or Enforce a Decision
Knowing what type of case or issue you have will help you determine how to proceed.
Civil Cases: Civil cases involve a disagreement between two parties. One party, called the plaintiff, brings a lawsuit against another party, called the defendant. Often, if the plaintiff wins the lawsuit, the defendant must pay money to the plaintiff. Family law cases are included in the category of civil cases.
Criminal Cases: Criminal cases involve the violation of a criminal law. In a Maryland criminal case, the State of Maryland brings charges against a defendant. A defendant who is found guilty will be punished by the State, often with fines or incarceration. Traffic cases are included in the category of criminal cases.
Juvenile Cases: Juvenile cases involve children. Juvenile cases include cases where a child is accused of breaking a law, as well as cases of child abuse.
Most of the information in the People’s Law Library is about the types of civil cases most frequently handled in state courts by self-represented parties. However, we also provide some very basic information, including links to other information sources, regarding Criminal Law and Victim’s Rights, as well as Youth Law.
The remaining information is about civil cases.
Your legal situation is important to you—and to the other party. The filing of a court case affects your legal rights and the rights and duties of the other party. For this reason, it’s very important that you stop and take the time to think whether or not a court case is the best way to resolve your dispute, and if it is how you plan to go forward with it.
The first step to think about is handling your dispute outside of court. Court cases take time, cost money and may cause some stress or disruption in your life. Some strategies to use in handling your problem outside of court are these:
If these strategies don’t work for you, then you might need to file a case in court.
Your next step is to think about whether filing a lawsuit is really “worth it.” You should think about whether or not you can really win your case. And, if you do win, you should make sure that the costs and time spent are in line with the amount of money you can actually receive from the other party.
In order to have a chance to win your case, you will need to make sure that you:
You will also need to make some personal decisions about costs. First, you need to think about how much you might receive if you win your case. You will need to consider what you are owed, of course. You also might deserve and additional amount from the other party to make you “whole” again and to get you back in the position you were in before the dispute (factors such as interest, court costs and attorney’s fees). Second, you will need to make sure the other party has the ability to pay. For instance, the other party may have filed for bankruptcy. Or, sometimes the defendant just will refuse to pay. While you have rights in that instance, the practical problem for you is that you will need to spend more time to see your money judgment.
Finally, you will need to decide how you will handle your case—with an attorney or by yourself. An attorney is professionally obligated to do what is best for you, the client. For that reason, it is always advisable to use an attorney. You can find out how to hire an attorney here. Sometimes, especially if you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you might be eligible for free or reduced-cost legal services. Check here for more information. Still, attorneys may cost more than your budget will allow, even if you are not eligible for free or reduced-cost representation. If that’s your situation, courts offer some self-help services that will provide you with additional assistance and information that you can use to handle your own case. Check here for self-help services. To help you decide if you might be successful handling a case on your own, use this quiz.
This site offers legal information, not legal advice. We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options. However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney. The Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site. In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland State Law Library, 2013.”