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About the Maryland Court System

The Maryland court system has four levels: two trial courts and two appellate courts. The trial courts consider evidence presented in a case and make judgments based on the facts, the law and legal precedent (prior legal decisions from a higher court). Appellate courts review a trial court's actions and decisions and decide whether the trial judge properly followed the law and legal precedent.


Appellate Courts

Maryland has two appellate courts: the Court of Appeals, the highest court, and the Court of Special Appeals, the intermediate appellate court. These courts review a trial court’s (District or Circuit Court) actions and decisions in given cases and decide whether the trial judge properly followed the law and legal precedent.

Circuit Court

Circuit Courts generally handles more serious criminal cases, major civil cases, including juvenile and other family law cases such as divorce, custody and child support and most cases appealed from the District Court, orphans’ courts and certain administrative agencies. Circuit courts also hear domestic violence cases. Each County and the City of Baltimore has a circuit court. Cases may involve juries or sometimes are heard by a judge only.

District Court

Most people experience the court system through the District Court. Cases heard here include motor vehicle (traffic) and boating violations and other misdemeanors and specified felonies, domestic violence and peace order petitions, landlord-tenant disputes, small claims and other civil cases involving limited dollar amounts, and replevin (recovery of wrongfully taken or detained goods). Each county and the City of Baltimore has at least one District Court location. A case in the District Court is argued before a judge only: there are no jury trials in District Court.

Orphans’ Court

The Orphans’ Court is a specialized court that handles wills, estates, and other probate matters and limited aspects of guardianship.

Other Bodies in Maryland

Office of Administrative Hearings

The Office of Administrative Hearings listens to contested executive branch adminsitrative law cases, except for those concerning officials or agencies exempted by law.

Federal Courts in Maryland

Federal courts are authorized by the U.S. Constitution to deal with issues involving laws enacted by Congress, as contrasted with state courts, which apply the laws of their state and local governments. For more information, see the U.S. Courts' website.



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Criminal Law

Changing your criminal record
This article covers expungement and pardons and includes how to remove your DNA from the state's DNA database.

Domestic Violence

Peace Orders
The Peace Order is a form of legal protection for anyone who is experiencing problems with an individual, including someone in a dating relationship, a neighbor, a stranger, or anyone else.

Protective Orders
In Maryland, you can obtain an order of protection from either the District Court or Circuit Court in your county.

Comparing Protective and Peace Orders
The table below provides an overview of how Peace Orders and Protective Orders differ from one another.

Family Law

Calculating Child Support
Maryland uses a formula to calculate child support. This formula is called the Child Support Guidelines. The court will usually order the amount of child support that the Guidelines say is correct unless someone can show that the Guidelines would be unjust and inappropriate in a particular case.

How Will Divorce or Separation Affect My Immigration Status?
If you are in the U.S. on a visa that was granted based on your spouse’s application, a divorce or separation may affect your lawful status and ability to stay in the U.S. You must be careful in choosing whether and when to separate or get a divorce.

Modifying Child Support
Modifications (changes) to child support do not happen automatically. One of the parents must request that the court change the child support order.

Child Custody in Maryland
Custody and visitation are the legal terms for court decisions about how the child will spend his/her time between parents (or others).

Correcting or Changing the Name on a Birth Certificate
There are many reasons you might wish to change the name on a birth certificate. There are rules for each type of change. This includes changing from one name to another, correcting a misspelled name, adding a missing name, or correcting a parent’s information.

Overview of Divorce in Maryland
Under Maryland law, marriage is a civil contract between two people, and divorce is a legal ending of a marriage.

Grounds for Absolute Divorce
To obtain an absolute divorce, one spouse must first prove that at least one ground for absolute divorce exists. This page gives a brief description of each ground for absolute divorce in Maryland.

Grounds for Limited Divorce
To obtain a limited divorce, one spouse must first prove that at least one ground for limited divorce exists.  This page gives a brief description of each ground for limited divorce in Maryland

Residency Requirements for Filing for Divorce in Maryland
To file for divorce in Maryland one party must be resident in Maryland.

Marital and Non-Marital Property
With a few important exceptions, all the property that was acquired during a marriage is considered marital property.

Alimony in Maryland
Alimony is a periodic payment by one former spouse to the other.

Separation Agreements
A couple with little hope of reconcilliation may privately enter into an oral or written agreement to live apart.


Breaking a Lease
Leases are binding contracts between the landlord(s) and the tenant(s). Maryland law imposes certain conditions on that contract such as limiting late fees to 5% of a monthly rental payment, but in those areas where the law does not impose limits, the landlord(s) and tenant(s) are free to negotiate their own agreement.

Security Deposits
This article defines what a security deposit is and what is required of tenants and landlords.


Frequently Asked Questions about Wills
A Will is a written legal document prepared for one person, called the testator, which sets forth what is to happen after death to his or her property, called the estate, and who is to be named as guardian to care for any minor children.

Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document in which you give someone legal authority to act for you.

Youth Law

Emancipation of a Minor
Emancipation of a minor generally refers to the process of freeing a minor (person under age 18) from parental control.


Is this legal advice?

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 – © Maryland State Law Library, 2019.”