FAQs

Court Basics - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I get forms for use in my case?

A: In the areas of this website where we give you information on specific legal issues like divorce, evictions, etc., we also give you a list of forms with links for those types of cases.  You can also go to Browse All Forms and in the drop-down menu, select the type of form you are looking for and then click on the "See Forms" button. You will get a list of forms that apply to that issue.  If you have a family law case, click for a guide to find and fill out family law forms online.

Q: How do I file papers in court?

A: Read the section on Filing Papers in Court.

Q: Where can I get information on serving papers?

A: Get more information on serving papers on our Service of Process page.

Q: If I have a disability, how can I be assured that I will be accommodated in court?

A: The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal civil rights statute, requires all state and local governmental entities, including the courts, to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities who have an interest in court activities, programs, and services. Rule 1.100 of the California Rules of Court seeks to provide a workable and orderly framework for compliance with the ADA and state laws. You can find questions and answers about rule 1.100 in For Persons With Disabilities Requesting Acommodations.

Q: How can I get court records?

A: The court clerk in the county where the matter was filed has copies of the records.  Copies may be requested in person or by mail, in some courts, and online.

The quickest way to obtain a copy is to go there in person.  To locate the county courthouse, go to Find My Court and, using the list of courts, link out to the court website.  At its website, in addition to contact information, you will probably find specific instructions for obtaining copies of court documents from that particular court.

To obtain copies of documents by mail, your letter must typically include the following:

  1. The full names of the parties to the case, including first, middle, and last names, and case number, if known.
  2. The approximate year of filing.
  3. Whether you need a certified copy of the document (governmental agencies may require certified copies).
  4. Your name, address, and phone number to ensure the return of documents and to give the court a way to contact you if there are any questions about your request.
  5. A self-addressed stamped, legal-sized envelope for return of documents.
  6. A check made payable to "Superior Court of California, County of [put the name of the county].

Depending on how long ago your case happened, your request may take 3 to 6 weeks. Older court records may be stored somewhere else than at the courthouse, and requests for records stored off site sometimes take longer to process.

Q: How are trial court judges selected?

A: Superior court judges serve 6-year terms and are elected by county voters on a nonpartisan ballot at a general election. Vacancies are filled through appointment by the Governor. Once the term to which a judge is appointed runs out, the judge must run for election if he or she wishes to remain in that position. A superior court judge must have been an attorney admitted to practice law in California or have served as a judge of a court of record in this state for at least 10 years immediately preceding election or appointment.

Q: How are justices of the Court of Appeal selected?

A: Each district (or division, in the case of the First, Second, and Fourth Appellate Districts) has a presiding justice and 2 or more associate justices. Appellate justices are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The same rules that govern the selection of Supreme Court justices apply to those serving on the Courts of Appeal.

Q: How are justices of the Supreme Court selected?

A: One Chief Justice and 6 associate justices are appointed by the Governor, confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, and confirmed by the public at the next general election. A justice also comes before the voters at the end of his or her 12-year term. To be eligible for appointment, a person must have been a member of the State Bar of California or a judge of a court in this state for at least 10 years.

Q: Where can I find biographical information about California's Supreme Court justices?

A: Information about the Supreme Court's 7 sitting justices appears online on the Supreme Court page.

Q: Where can I find biographical information about California's Court of Appeal justices?

A: Information about the justices appears on the Court of Appeal websites. Click on the Court of Appeal district for which you want the information. For example, information about the justices of the Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District (Fresno) can be found here.

Q: How can I locate a particular California trial court judge?

A: Visit our Judges Roster page.

Q: What is the California Judicial Council?

A: The Judicial Council is the governing body of the California courts. It is chaired by the California Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The California Constitution directs the Judicial Council to provide policy guidelines to the courts, make recommendations annually to the Governor and Legislature, and adopt and revise California Rules of Court in the areas of court administration, practice, and procedure. The council performs its constitutional and other functions with the support of its staff agency, the Administrative Office of the Courts.

New judicial members of the council and its committees are selected through a nominating procedure intended to attract applicants from throughout the legal system and to result in a membership that is diverse in experience, gender, ethnic background, and geography.

The council has 21 voting members, who include 14 judges appointed by the Chief Justice, 4 attorneys appointed by the State Bar Board of Governors, and 1 member from each house of the Legislature. The council also has about 11 advisory members, including court executives or administrators, the chair of the council’s Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, and the president of the California Judges Association. The council performs most of its work through internal committees and advisory committees and task forces.

Q: Where can I find more information about the federal court system?

A: For more information about the federal court system, visit the Federal Court website.

Q: What guides judges' ethical conduct?

A: Judges are guided by the California Code of Judicial Ethics. Click to read the California Code of Judicial Ethics.

Q: How do I file a complaint against a judge?

A: Contact the Commission on Judicial Performance, an independent state agency that handles complaints about California's judicial officers for judicial misconduct or wrongdoing. The complaint process is not intended to deal with complaints related to the merits of a case or a court's decision. The Commission on Judicial Performance is located at 455 Golden Gate Ave., Suite 14400, San Francisco, CA 94102; phone them at 415-557-1200.

Q: How do I file a complaint against a court commissioner or referee?

A: First, complain to the presiding judge of the court in which your case was heard. If you then want the Commission on Judicial Performance to review the local court’s disposition of your complaint, you must file a request with the commission within 30 days of the court’s disposition. Send the commission both your letter of complaint and the disposition letter the court sent you. If the commission determines that the judge abused his or her authority in the disposition of your complaint, the commission will take action. The Commission on Judicial Performance is located at 455 Golden Gate Ave., Suite 14400, San Francisco, CA 94102; phone them at 415-557-1200.

Q: Where can I find a court's local rules?
Q: Where can I find the court calendar for this year, with court holidays?

A: For a list of court holidays, go to our Court Holidays page.

Also, keep in mind that due to the state budget crisis, some courts have furlough days when the court will be closed to the public. So check your court's website as well to find out whether your local court will be closed on any additional dates.  Find your superior court’s website.

Q: What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?

A: An interpreter is different from a translator because while interpreters translate what is being said, translators translate written materials. Some interpreters are translators and some translators are interpreters. But just because someone is a translator does not mean they can interpret, especially not in court, where the legal language is very specialized and can be complicated and confusing to someone who does not know it well. However, court interpreters may have to orally translate written documents (like court exhibits) as part of an interpreting assignment during a court proceeding.

Q: How can I become a court interpreter?

A: You can find out about becoming a court interpreter, as well as requirements, examination information, and other resources for court interpreters by going to our Court Interpreters page.

Lawyers & Legal Help - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I complain about a lawyer?

A: The State Bar of California is in charge of complaints against lawyers and lawyer discipline.  The Attorney Discipline System takes complaints against lawyers from citizens and other sources, investigates those complaints, and prosecutes lawyers when allegations of unethical conduct by them appear to be justified. The website gives you more instructions on filing a complaint, complaint forms, and other information. You can also call:

1-800-843-9053 — Attorney Complaint Hotline
1-213-765-1200 (Calling from outside California)

The State Bar pamphlet What Can I Do If I Have a Problem With My Lawyer? has a lot more information about what to do if you are having problems with your lawyer.

Q: Where can I go on the Web to get help with a legal problem in another state?

A: Visit any of these sites to get help with a legal problem in another state, or contact the state bar in that state.

American Bar Association Consumer's Guide to Legal Help
This website can help you find information and free and low-cost legal help in many states.

LawHelp.org
This website can help you find legal help and resources in each state in the United States.

National Center for State Courts Pro Se Useful Court-Related Links
This website provides useful court-related links to self-help resources.

Q: How do I find out background on a lawyer in California?

A: The California State Bar website provides information on California lawyers and will tell you if a member has been disciplined or disbarred for misconduct. You can also find out where the lawyer went to school and when he or she was admitted to practice in this state.

There are other lawyer directories that you can find at your local law library and most public libraries.

Q: Can I fire my lawyer?

A: Yes, you have the right to fire your lawyer at any time. But, he or she usually will have the right to payment for any past work done for you.

Also, you have the right to change lawyers at any time but if you wait until you are close to trial, consider whether this would be good for you and your case. You may not be able to find another lawyer at such a late stage.  And a change can delay your case. 

And remember that representing yourself in a complicated case could hurt your case.

Q: What do I do when I fire my lawyer?

A: You have to fill out a Substitution of Attorney-Civil (Form MC-050). This form is required whenever someone changes who is acting as his or her attorney. If a lawyer is representing you, and you now want to represent yourself (or you want to change to a different lawyer), you need to complete this form. The Substitution of Attorney — Civil will remove one person as the attorney in the case and replace that person with someone else (you or your new lawyer if you have one).

If you are acting as your own attorney and then hire a lawyer, you will also need to fill out this form.

Follow these steps:

  1. Fill out the Substitution of Attorney-Civil (Form MC-050). Sign this form and have the lawyer that you are firing AND the new lawyer you are hiring sign it too. Then, make a copy for each side in the case, including yourself.
  2. Have someone 18 or older, NOT you, mail the other parties a copy of the Substitution of Attorney-Civil.  Make sure the person who does this for you, the “server,” does NOT mail the original. The original is for the court.
  3. Have the server fill out and sign the second page of the Substitution of Attorney-Civil (Form MC-050). This is the Proof of Service, telling the court you served all the other parties with the Substitution of Attorney. Make sure the server writes the names and addresses of all parties involved in the case.
  4. File the ORIGINAL of Form MC-050 (with the Proof of Service on page 2 filled out and signed) with the court. Take your copy to th curthoue as well and make sure it is stamped “Filed.”

Keep in mind that once you file a Substitution of Attorney telling the court that you no longer have a lawyer, you are representing yourself (unless you have a new lawyer that you have named on the form). The lawyer you had is no longer representing you and does not have a duty to help you with your case any longer.

You can hire a new lawyer later, or the same lawyer again, but that would require a new agreement with the lawyer, and you (or your new lawyer) will have to file a new Substitution of Attorney letting the court know you are represented again.

If you are changing lawyers, substituting out your lawyer for a new one, your new lawyer will most likely fill out and file the Substitution of Attorney form with the court.

Q: What should I know about getting legal help from a paralegal?

A: Paralegals, or legal document assistants, are a good resource for preparing the many forms needed in a family law case and other types of cases. BUT they have not been to law school. They are not qualified to give you legal advice and, by law, are not allowed to give you legal advice. They can only do what you tell them to do. They are not trained to spot potential problems. Click for information about how to find a legal document assistant in your community.

Q: What should I know about buying a prepaid legal services plan?

A: Prepaid legal services plans work in a variety of ways. Depending upon the plan, features may include some of the following:

  • Discounts on legal services through a network of attorneys;
  • Free legal services, such as the preparation of a property deed or simple will; and
  • Access to a database of legal forms and documents.

When you consider a plan, pay careful attention to what the plan does and does not cover. If you do not anticipate having legal needs in the coming year that will be covered by the plan, you should think carefully before purchasing a plan. Similarly, if you think that you might take advantage of a service under the plan, such as the preparation of a simple will, be aware that lawyers who accept the plan will likely try to sell you an upgraded service. In some cases, it will make sense to obtain the upgraded service, but there may not be any cost savings as a result of plan membership.

Also, if you find that you do not like the lawyer available through your plan, you may find that you are unable to change lawyers through the plan, or that there are no other lawyers in the area who participate in the plan. You may wish to inquire about the identities of local lawyers who accept a specific plan before making the decision to purchase the plan.

If you are purchasing a plan through an independent representative, instead of directly from the corporation that sponsors the plan (or through a group such as your employer, union, or credit union), you should pay special attention to the written language of the plan and compare this to any promises made by the representative. Plans that sell through multilevel marketing may refuse to take responsibility for any false promises made by an independent representative, who may well be primarily motivated by earning a commission rather than serving your best interests.

You may be eligible for a prepaid legal services plan through your employer, your union, or your credit union. If not, you may wish to look at plans endorsed by or sponsored by a reputable organization, such as the American Bar Association’s American Prepaid Legal Services Institute's listing of legal service plans. Your regional Better Business Bureau may also be able to provide you with consumer information about particular plans.

Finding a Lawyer - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I need a lawyer?

A: It depends on your case. It is always a good idea to at least talk to a lawyer about your case. Some cases are simple enough that you may be able to handle your particular case without a lawyer as long as you do your homework, get help when needed, and are good at following rules and procedures.

But there are many cases that are very complicated and, without a lawyer, you could hurt or even lose your case, no matter how strong it is and how right you think you are.

Q: Are there any cases that require that I have a lawyer?

A: Yes. A party in a lawsuit must generally be represented by a lawyer when the case is outside small claims court AND that party:

  • Is a corporation, a limited liability company, or an unincorporated association;
  • Is a trustee, a probate fiduciary, a personal representative, or a guardian ad litem; or
  • Is some other type of fiduciary like a conservator or guardian in certain situations.

Get legal advice if you think you may be in one of these situations to find out for sure whether you can represent yourself or must be represented by a lawyer.

Q: Why do I need a lawyer for a malpractice case?

A: If you are suing for medical malpractice or some other type of professional negligence, the law says you need to prove that the doctor or other professional breached (broke) the duty of care owed to you and that you suffered damages as a direct and proximate cause of the breach. These legal requirements are very hard to prove, and you will need expert witnesses to do it.
 
Expert witness fees are very expensive. They can often cost several thousand dollars per day. The expert witness fees must be paid for consulting, which includes reviewing records, examining a patient, and discussing findings with the lawyer, as well as for depositions and for trial. Lawyers who represent plaintiffs on a contingency basis (meaning the lawyer only gets paid if you win) usually hire the experts for the case. Without a lawyer to advance these costs, you may find yourself unable to afford the experts you need to prove your case.

 

In addition, to be able to use an expert witness, you must establish that the witness has the necessary educational background and training, professional experience, and sufficient familiarity with the facts and evidence in the case to qualify as an “expert.” Trained and experienced lawyers are needed to establish the foundation to have the court declare a witness an “expert.”

Q: Why do I need a lawyer in a construction defect case?

A: Construction defect cases often depend on expert witnesses to prove or disprove the allegations of the complaint. This may not be true of a small case in which the property owner hired a handyman or contractor to perform a single job on the property and 1 person performed all the work. For example, if you hired a roofing contractor to install a new roof, and the new roof leaked, you may be able to sue the roofing contractor without a lawyer or expert witnesses because you may be able to prove on your own that (1) you hired the contractor to install a new roof, (2) you paid the contractor, (3) the roof leaked, and (4) the leaks caused damage.
 
But if you had several people working on your house (like an architect, a structural engineer, and a general contractor who, in turn, hired subcontractors and purchased supplies from different suppliers), proving who is at fault when something goes wrong becomes very difficult, and you would probably need an expert witnesses to determine fault and explain it to the court.
 
Also, construction experts are expensive, especially if you need many experts in different specialties. Expert costs for these types of cases can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Some lawyers will take construction defect cases on a contingency basis, but most charge by the hour. You may be able to hire a lawyer on a limited-scope basis, to help you with certain parts of the case, while you handle other parts on your own.

For information on limited-scope lawyers, read the section on limited-scope representation.

Q: Why do I need a lawyer in a case involving competing title to real estate?

A: Real estate cases that allege someone committed fraud, like cases in which there is competing title to real property, are usually too complicated for a person without a lot of legal training and experience. Also, even if you win, if you make a mistake in writing up the final order (in civil cases, the court generally does not prepare orders, it is up to the parties to do it), the title insurance company may not insure title, in effect preventing you, as the property owner, from selling or refinancing.

Q: Why do I need a lawyer in a case involving wrongful termination or employment discrimination?

A: If you are suing your employer for employment discrimination or wrongful termination, you most likely will need a lawyer. Proving these cases is complicated and the employer’s lawyers usually fight these cases vigorously. To win this type of case, you must have a lawyer skilled in direct and cross-examination of witnesses and the rules of evidence.

Q: Why do I need a lawyer for administrative writs and appeals?

A: Cases appealing a final decision by an administrative agency or hearing officer are extremely complicated and limited in the type of review the court can make. A lawyer can tell you if you have a sufficient basis in the record for an appeal and discuss other options with you.

Help From Your Court - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Will the family law facilitator, small claims legal advisor, or self-help center in my county help me with a case in another county?

A: Family law facilitators can help you with cases in other counties. But often they have to refer you to the facilitator in the other county because that facilitator will know more about how that local court works.

The same is usually true of the small claims legal advisor and the self-help center, but because these services vary so much from county to county, you may be better off going to the county were your case is.

Find the contact information for your court’s self-help programs.

Q: Can I get help from a court self-help program if I do not speak English well?

A: Ask for an interpreter. If your court's self-help services do not have an interpreter who can help you, bring someone to interpret for you. Do not use a child to interpret for you.

Q: What if I am disabled and can not travel to the courthouse to get help from a court self-help program?

A: You may e-mail, write, or telephone the program you need help from, like the family law facilitator, the small claims legal advisor, or the self-help center. This may take more time than going to the office for help. To help you, these programs may need copies of documents and other information from your case file, so be prepared for the process to take longer.

Find court resources to find the contact information for your court’s self-help programs.

Family Law Facilitators - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I find the family law facilitator in my county?

A: Click to find the family law facilitator in your county.

Q: What is a family law facilitator?

A:  A family law facilitator is a lawyer with experience in family law who works for the superior court in your county to help parents and children involved in family law cases with child, spousal, and partner support problems.

Q: What does a family law facilitator do?

A: The family law facilitator gives you educational materials that explain how to:

  • Establish parentage; and
  • Get, change, or enforce child, spousal, or partner support orders.

The family law facilitator can also:

  • Give you the court forms you need;
  • Help you fill out your forms;
  • Help you figure out support amounts; and
  • Refer you to your local child support agency, family court services, and other community agencies that help parents and children.

The family law facilitator in your county may be able to help you in other ways, too. Contact your local family law facilitator to learn more.

Q: Is the family law facilitator my lawyer?

A:  The family law facilitator (or any court self-help attorney) is not your lawyer. He or she is an independent lawyer who can help parents or children who do not have their own lawyer. The family law facilitator helps you represent yourself in your case.

Both parties can get help from the same family law facilitator. Remember: You do not have attorney-client privilege. What you say to the family law facilitator is not confidential.

Q: Am I eligible to see the family law facilitator?

A: Anyone who does not have his or her own lawyer can see the family law facilitator. It does not matter how much money you make.

Q: What information do I need to show the family law facilitator?

A:  If possible, call your family law facilitator and ask what papers you should bring.

Be sure to take this information:

  • Your court case number(s), and
  • A copy of any orders or judgment in your case(s).

If you do not have your court documents, ask the court clerk for copies. They will charge you a copying fee (about 50 cents per page). The court clerk can also give you the court case number.

If you want help with child support, spousal support, partner support, or court fees, take:

  • Your pay stubs for the last 2 months (or bank statements showing direct deposit of your paycheck),
  • Proof of unemployment benefits,
  • Proof of income and expenses from self-employment, and
  • A copy of your most recent federal and state tax returns.

Q: Can I talk to the family law facilitator on the phone?

A:  Family law facilitators usually work in person with groups of people or in walk-in clinics. They need to see your case file and will probably have you read and sign a disclosure form before they can talk to you.

Click to see the disclosure form in Spanish.
Click to see the disclosure form in Chinese.
Click to see the disclosure form in Korean.
Click to see the disclosure form in Vietnamese.

But some family law facilitator's offices do provide help on the phone and have call-in hours where you can be helped by a live person. Contact your family law facilitator to find out what types of services they offer.

Q: Will the family law facilitator in my county help me with a case in another county?

A: Family law facilitators can help you with cases in other counties. But often they have to refer you to the facilitator in the other county because that facilitator will know more about how that court works.

Q: What if I am disabled and can't travel to my family law facilitator's office?

A:  You may try to write or telephone the family law facilitator. This may take more time than going to the facilitator's office for help. The family law facilitator may need copies of documents and other information from your case file.

Q: What if I am in jail or prison and can't travel to a family law facilitator's office?
Q: What if I don't speak English?

A:  Ask for an interpreter. If your family law facilitator does not have an interpreter who can help you, bring someone to interpret for you. Do not use a child to interpret for you.

To be prepared for how the family law facilitator can help you, read the disclosure form.

Click to see the disclosure form in Spanish.
Click to see the disclosure form in Chinese.
Click to see the disclosure form in Korean.
Click to see the disclosure form in Vietnamese.

Limited-Scope Representation - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What happens if I later need more services from the limited-scope lawyer?

A: New issues frequently come up in legal matters. That means that you may find you need more assistance from the lawyer than you originally expected. If you use limited scope, you can always go back to the lawyer and ask for more assistance. Your lawyer will already be familiar with you and your case because of his or her prior involvement. This will be much more efficient than trying to find another lawyer to help you and then educate him or her about your case. Remember, you are paying for your lawyer’s time, so it is very inefficient to keep paying new lawyers to learn about your legal issues.

Q: What if I decide I want the lawyer to handle the entire case?

A: After going to court on your own, even with good coaching from a lawyer, you may decide that you would rather have the lawyer take over the whole case. Because you pay any lawyer for time, it is more efficient to return to the lawyer who already knows you and your legal issues, rather than paying a new lawyer to get up to speed.

Q: What if my spouse has a lawyer and I have a coach?

A: Many people decide that they would rather represent themselves, even if the other side has a lawyer. Your coach, or limited-scope lawyer, can prepare you for what to expect in court, can advise you of your legal rights and the most effective way to protect them, and outline possible negotiation strategies for you. Your lawyer can also negotiate for you to try to settle the case outside of court, even though you intend to represent yourself in court if the negotiations fail.

Q: I have a child support case. Is limited scope a good idea for me?

A: In deciding if you can hire a limited-scope lawyer for a child support case and whether you will be able to handle the rest of the case on your own, consider:

  • Is the income of both of you easy to determine (as in a W-2, paystub or some other available document)?
  • How likely is it that there is additional income from other sources that must be discovered or evaluated?
  • How difficult is it going to be to get the information necessary to prove the additional income?
  • Will you need to subpoena records or take depositions?
  • Is it likely that an outside party will have to go over records to find missing income? Does this need to be a lawyer? A paralegal? An accountant?
  • Is spousal or partner support going to be in dispute? If you agree it will be paid, do you agree on the amount? Do you agree on the duration?

If, in thinking about these questions you realize there may be a lot of complications in your case, limited-scope representation may not be right. But talk to a lawyer to make sure.

Q: I have a child custody case. Is limited scope a good idea for me?

A: In deciding if you can hire a limited-scope lawyer for a child custody case and whether you will be able to handle the rest of the case on your own, consider:

  • Is there a dispute about custody of your children? Visitation or time-share? Where they go to school? To church?
  • Is the disagreement likely to be resolved by mediation?
  • Is a formal evaluation likely to be required?
  • Is it likely that you will have a contested trial?
  • What kinds of witnesses or evidence are likely to be presented by your side? By the other parent's?
  • Does 1 of you want to take the children and move away?
  • Are there contentions that 1 of you is an unfit parent?
  • Does either side allege domestic violence against the other parent or the children?

If, in thinking about these questions you realize there may be a lot of complications in your case, limited-scope representation may not be right. But talk to a lawyer to make sure.

Q: I have a case involving property. Is limited scope a good idea for me?

A: In deciding if you can hire a limited-scope lawyer for a case involving property and whether you will be able to handle the rest of the case on your own, consider:

  • What kinds of property do you have to divide:
    • Real property (land and buildings),
    • Personal property (furniture, appliances, etc.),
    • Employee benefits (pensions, 401(k) plans, IRA accounts),
    • Stocks and bonds,
    • Business interests, or
    • Other types of property.
  • Are there any special problems with any of these items or property?
  • Was any of the property inherited?
  • For each kinds of property, what witnesses or documentary evidence will be required to present your case and what is the best way to develop it?
  • Do you suspect your spouse/partner of hiding assets? How do you propose to find them?
  • Is there a premarital agreement that impacts division of property or support rights?
  • Is the date of separation in dispute?
  • Is there inherited property that has been invested in any part of the marital estate/cpmmunity?
  • Is there a history of domestic violence?

If, in thinking about these questions you realize there may be a lot of complications in your case, limited-scope representation may not be right. But talk to a lawyer to make sure.

Q: Why shouldn’t I just keep coming back to the lawyer referral service for a new referral each time a question comes up?

A: That usually violates the referral service rules and is really not in your best interests. If you keep consulting with different lawyers on your case, you have to introduce each new lawyer to all that has happened before. This means that you waste time getting the lawyer up to speed on your legal matter. It also increases the risk that you forget to tell the lawyer some fact from the past that is important to your current situation. You are much better off consulting with the same lawyer over a period of time as new questions come up, so he or she is familiar with you and with what has happened earlier in the case.

Q: I called a lawyer to find out whether her office does "unbundling" and she had never heard of this. Don't all lawyers do limited-scope representation?

A: No. Some do not do this, and in some counties it is unusual. You can contact your local lawyer referral service to find out where you can find a lawyer who will provide unbundled services. When you do speak with a lawyer and you want limited representation, make sure that you are clear about what you want; that you do not want to hire the lawyer to handle the entire case.

Preparing for Court - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I am the defendant in a case that was filed after the statute of limitations ran out. What should I do?

A: If you are sure the statute of limitations has run out, make sure you bring that up to the court in your response form or in some other way. Ask a lawyer how to do this.  Click for help finding  a lawyer.

Q: Can I get help filing my papers by mail?

A: Some courts have people who help with family law, small claims, restraining orders, and other kinds of civil cases. Find help from your court.

Q: What do I do if I get served with court forms?

A:

  • Get legal help as soon as possible! In many cases you only have 30 days to respond. For many hearings (like domestic violence or eviction cases) you only have a few days. The Find Legal Help section of this Online Self-Help Center will help you find people that can help you at little or no cost.
  • Read the forms. Try to figure out what they are about.
  • Take your forms with you when you go to ask for legal help.

Q: I am changing lawyers. Do I need to file anything with the court?

A: You should always keep the court updated if you change lawyers, or if you go from having a lawyer to representing yourself or vice versa.

To do this, you have to fill out and file a Substitution of Attorney-Civil (Form MC-050). This form is required whenever someone changes who is acting as his or her attorney.  If a lawyer is representing you, and you now want to represent yourself, you need to complete this form.  The Substitution of Attorney-Civil will remove one person as the lawyer in the case and replace that person with someone else (you or your new lawyer if you have one).

If you are acting as your own lawyer and then hire a lawyer, you will also need to fill out this form. 

Follow these steps:

  • Fill out the Substitution of Attorney-Civil (Form MC-050). Then, sign it and have the lawyer who is leaving your case (or joining the case) sign it too. Make a copy for each party in the case, including you.
  • Have someone 18 or older, NOT you, mail the other parties a copy of the Substitution of Attorney-Civil.  Make sure the person who does this for you, the “server,” does NOT mail the original.  The original is for the court.
  • Have the server fill out and sign the second page of the Substitution of Attorney-Civil (Form MC-050). This is the Proof of Service, telling the court you served all the other parties with the Substitution of Attorney. Make sure the server writes the names and addresses of all parties involved in the case. 
  • File the ORIGINAL of form MC-050 (with the Proof of Service on page 2 filled out and signed) with the court.  Take your copy as well and make sure the clerk stamps it “Filed.”

Q: I have moved. How do I let the court know?

A: When you have a case in court, you must always keep the court updated with any changes in your address or phone number.  If the court does not have your most current address, you will miss important court notices. Also, once a case is going, a party can usually serve the other party by mail at the address of record with the court. If your address with the court is outdated, you will also miss important papers filed by the other side in your case.  You could lose important rights.

So, in order to keep the court updated, whenever your address changes, you must file an official court form called a Notice of Change of Address (Form MC-040) with the court.


To file a change of address:

  • Fill out a Notice of Change of Address (Form MC-040) and make 2 copies.
  • Have a third person (NOT you) at last 18 years old mail 1 of the copies to the other party in the case. If the other party has a lawyer, the copy can be mailed to the lawyer. If there is more than 1 other party, have your server mail a copy to every party.
  • Have your server fill out the back of the original of the Notice of Change of Address (Form MC-040), which is the Proof of Service. Make sure your server indicates to whom the Notice of Change of Address (Form MC-040) was sent, to what address, and when. Your server also has to sign this form and then return the original to you.
  • Make 1 more copy of the original of the Notice of Change of Address, this time making sure you also copy the filled out Proof of Service on page 2.
  • Take the original and your copy to the court and file it with the clerk. The clerk will keep the original, stamp your copy "Filed," and return it to you.

Q: I want to become an interpreter. Where do I start?

A: Learn more about how to become an interpreter.

Q: I cannot find the person I am supposed to serve with papers. What can I do?

A:  Here are some ways to track someone down:

  1. Send a letter to the person’s last address.  Under your return address, write “Return Service Requested. Do Not Forward.” If the person filed an address change with the post office, you will get the letter back with a new address. Get more information from the United States Postal Service.
  2. Go to the local post office covering the area for the person’s last known address. Ask if the person left a forwarding address.
  3. Call "411" for the city or cities where you think the person may live or work.  If the person is listed, you may be able to get his or her address. Or you may only get the phone number, but you can use the phone number to try other things to get the address.
  4. Search free online telephone directories. You can do an Internet search to try to locate the person. Some Internet searches are free, and if the person is listed, you can get the phone number or address.
  5. Search online on sites that search for people. You may be able to pay a small fee to an Internet company to give you the address or phone number of the person you are looking for. In that case, the more details you have about the person you are searching for (like date of birth or approximate age), the more accurate the results you may get.
  6. Search social networking sites.  You can search popular social network sites where people often list their name, location, and perhaps other information you can find helpful. Or, you may be able to email them through the social network site if you think they may cooperate with you and give you information so you can serve them with legal papers
  7. Use a reverse telephone directory.  If you only know the person’s phone number, you can get the address from a reverse telephone directory, which allows you to search by a telephone number to get the name and address of that telephone number’s subscriber. BUT the address and name will not be in the reverse directory if the phone number is unlisted.

    • You can also use a reverse phone directory online. There are several of these. Just search for “reverse phone directory.”
    • You can also look at a reverse telephone directory at the main branch of your public library.
  8. If you know any of the person’s relatives or friends, contact them for information.  Call, write, or e-mail them and ask them if they have any contact information for him or her. They may not have all the information but even if they only know what city he or she may have moved to, the information can be helpful to you. You can also explain to them why you need to find this person and even if they do not want to give you the person’s contact information, they may be willing to contact him or her on your behalf and give him or her your contact information so he or she can get in touch with you and find out what you want. For some cases, like, for example, a divorce, the other person may also want to be divorced so it would be to his or her advantage to give you a way to get in touch with them.

  9. If you know any of the person’s past employers, contact them for information. Ask the last known employer (or even employers before that) if they have any information about the person’s whereabouts, even if it is just a city where he or she may have moved, or the name and address of the new employer.

  10. If the person you are trying to find owns property, search property records.

    • The county tax assessor's office can search the tax rolls for you. The tax rolls in the assessor’s office list the names and addresses of property owners in the county by both owner name and address of the property. The tax assessor's address and phone number is also listed in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually in the county section under ASSESSOR.
    • You can also get this information from the county registrar/recorder's office . The property owners are listed by name, and each listing includes the location of the property owned. The address and phone number of your county registrar/recorder’s office is also listed in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually in the county section under RECORDER.

  11. If you have any reason to think the person may be in prison or jail, follow these steps:

    • For California State Prison: Call the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  You must have either the inmate's CDC number or the inmate's full name and date of birth to get information.  Find the phone numbe for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate Locator.  Find a list of California correctional facilities.
    • For Federal Prison: Click for the Federal Bureau of Prison's Inmate Locator database.  You can search the database using the inmate's first and last name or the inmate's Register Number, DCDC Number, FBI Number, or INS Number.  Find a list of federal correctional facilities at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Fill in whatever information you know (like the state or city you are looking for) and hit “submit.”
    • For County Jail: Call the jail. You can usually find the phone number and address for the jail by calling the county sheriff.  Find the contact information for the county sheriffs in California.

      If you do not know if a person is in state or federal prison or county  jail, search for the person in state and federal prison and the  counties where you think the person might be incarcerated.

Be creative!!!
You do not need to know where someone lives or works in order to serve him or her with legal papers. You only need to find the person to give him or her your legal papers through a server. The more you know about someone and his or her habits or the places he or she frequents, the easier it will be to figure out a good way to serve him or her with legal papers. So even if you do not know someone’s address but you know that at a given time he or she generally goes to a certain coffee shop, or to the gym, or to some other fixed place, you can have a server there to give him or her legal papers. You may also make a plan to meet the person somewhere and then have a server with you to give him or her the paperwork when you meet up. You can also hire a private investigator to help you find someone.

Fee Waiver - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find how much court fees are?

A: Look at the Statewide Civil Court Fee Schedule.  The fees are uniform in all 58 California counties (except for Riverside, San Bernardino and San Francisco counties, where fees may include a small surcharge related to local court construction needs).  Also, most court have their fee schedules posted on their court's website. Click to find your court.

Q: I have to pay court fees that are not included in my Order on Court Fee Waiver (Form FW-003 or FW-008), but I cannot afford them. What can I do?

A:

  • Read the Information Sheet on Waiver of Superior Court Fees and Costs (Form FW-001-INFO).
  • Fill out a Request to Waive Additional Court Fees (Form FW-002), and the top of a blank Order on Court Fee Waiver (Form FW-003).  
  • Make 1 copy of your forms.
  • Turn in your forms to the clerk. The clerk will tell you how long it will take to process your application for a fee waiver.
  • The rest of the process is the same as with your original fee waiver.

Remember: You must sign your request for a fee waiver under penalty of perjury. So, on your forms, you must tell the truth, and your answers must be accurate and complete.

Q: I lost my civil case and owe money to the other side. The court ordered me to pay the other side’s fees, but they had a fee waiver. What do I do?

A: Even if the other side’s fees were waived, you are still responsible for them. You owe them to the court. The judgment against you will not be satisfied (considered paid in full) until you pay back the waived fees of the other side.

Q: I am paying child/spousal/domestic partner/family support. I received an Order to Pay Waived Court Fees and Costs (Form FL-336) that says I also have to pay my spouse’s or domestic partner’s waived court fees. I disagree with the order. What do I do?

A: You can ask for a hearing to request that the court set aside (cancel) the order to pay the other person’s waived court fees and costs.

You must request a hearing within 30 days from the date of service of the Order to Pay Waived Court Fees and Costs (Form FL-336). If you file in time, you will not have to pay the waived fees until the judge makes a decision after the hearing.

To request a hearing:

  1. Fill out a Notice of Motion (Form FL-301) or an Order to Show Cause (Form FL-300).
  2. Fill out an Application to Set Aside Order to Pay Waived Court Fees-Attachment (Form FL-337) and attach it to Form FL-301 or Form FL-300.
  3. Make 3 copies of your forms.
  4. Turn in your forms to the clerk. The clerk will give you a date for the hearing.
  5. 5. Have someone 18 or older serve the other person with 1 copy of the forms that the clerk returns to you AND include a blank Responsive Declaration to Order to Show Cause or Notice of Motion (Form FL-320).
  6. Fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) or a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) and file it with the clerk.
  7. Make sure you go to your hearing. If you do not go, your request will be denied and you will have to pay back the other side's waived fees and costs.

Q: I received an Order to Pay Waived Court Fees and Costs (form FL-336) that says I have to pay back my waived court fees. I disagree with the order. What do I do?

A: The court may order you to pay back fees and costs that were previously waived for you if the court believes your financial situation has changed. If you disagree with the order, you can ask for a hearing to request that the court set aside (cancel) the order.

You must request a hearing within 30 days from the date of service of the Order to Pay Waived Court Fees and Costs (Form FL-336). If you file in time, you will not have to pay the waived fees until the judge makes a decision after the hearing.

To request a hearing:

  1. Fill out a Notice of Motion (Form FL-301) or an Order to Show Cause (Form FL-300).
  2. Fill out an Application to Set Aside Order to Pay Waived Court Fees-Attachment (Form FL-337) and attach it to Form FL-301 or Form FL-300.
  3. Make 3 copies of your forms.
  4. Turn in your forms to the clerk. The clerk will give you a date for the hearing.
  5. Have someone 18 or older, not you, serve the other person with 1 copy of the forms that the clerk returns to you AND include a blank Responsive Declaration to Order to Show Cause or Notice of Motion (Form FL-320).
  6. Fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) or a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) and file it with the clerk.
  7. Make sure you go to your hearing. If you do not go, your request will be denied and you will have to pay back the other side's waived fees and costs.

Researching the Law - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find the local rules for my court?
Q: Where can I find constitutions, codes and regulations?

A: For California:

 

For federal laws:

Q: Where can I find the California Rules of Court online?
Q: Where can I find California appellate court and Supreme Court decisions?
Q: Where can I find California appellate briefs?

A: You can find California appellate briefs at the Courts of Appeal: Appellate Briefs. And the Court of Appeal districts have self-help manuals with sample briefs you can use to guide you as well.  Click on the appropriate appellate district below to get more information.

In addiiton, four law libraries in California serve as depositories for appellate briefs. Their collection holdings vary. Please contact the libraries for information about their briefs, including years covered and format. Each library's website provides information about location, hours of service, and telephone numbers.

Q: Where can I find federal court opinions online?

A: The federal court system includes the Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. Courts of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Court of International Trade, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts.

Click for U.S. Supreme Court opinions.

The U.S. Courts of Appeals consist of 11 circuit courts in addition to the District of Columbia Circuit and the Federal Circuit. California is in the Ninth Circuit along with Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Click for information about and opinions issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. For information about the other circuits, you can go to your local public law library or use the Ask a Law Librarian service.

California is divided into four U.S. District Court jurisdictions: the Northern District, Eastern District, Central District, and Southern District. Click for opinions and other information from the Central DistrictEastern District, Northern District, and Southern District.  You can also access opinions in federal courts using the Villanova University School of Law federal case locator.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Courts in California are also divided into the Northern District, Eastern District, Central District, and Southern District. Each district has information online including opinions for the bankrupcty courts. Click on the district for which you want the information.

Special Education - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What if my child hurts himself, hurts others, or is destructive?

A: This behavior can get in the way of your child’s learning and individualized education program (IEP) goals. The local educational agency (LEA) will make a “behavior intervention plan” to help children who hurt themselves or other people, break things, or act out in class.

The plan is supposed to help the student change the behavior. It must be added to your child’s IEP. After your child has a behavior intervention plan, problem behavior will be considered part of the disability and must be addressed by the behavior intervention plan. If that does not work, a new IEP meeting should be called to write new goals, obtain new assessments, or discuss alternative placement.

 

Q: What if my child is suspended from school?

A:. The principal of your child's school will follow the California Education Code to decide if a student should be suspended. (A teacher is able to send a student out of the class, but only the principal can send the student home.)

Special education students can be suspended just like regular students. But they cannot be suspended for more than 10 days, no matter what the reason for the suspension is, without holding an IEP meeting or being referred for expulsion. The 10 days can be 10 days in a row (consecutive) or a few days at a time adding up to 10 days during the school year. After 10 days, FAPE must be provided to the student.

Q: What if my child is expelled from school?

A: California Education Code section 48915 says what things your child can be expelled for doing, such as bringing a weapon or drugs to school. Your child can be expelled or suspended for some of the same things.

A school principal may refer a student for expulsion, but does not have the authority to expel, only to suspend the student. Only a school board may expel a student.

A special education student cannot be recommended for expulsion until the student has a pre-expulsion assessment, which is called a “manifestation determination” IEP.

Q: Who is part of the manifestation determination IEP (pre-expulsion assessment)?

A: The IEP team has an IEP meeting. The team decides if the student should be expelled. Parents are also part of the pre-expulsion assessment meeting.

Q: What does the IEP team look at in the manifestation determination IEP (pre-expulsion assessment meeting)?

A: The IEP team reviews the goals, services, and placement to decide if the child has had the right services such as a behavior plan, and whether the placement was right when the student misbehaved. They will also look at how the child’s actions are connected to his or her disability. The team has to decide if the behavior was caused by the disability. This is called a “manifestation determination.”

Q: What if I do not agree with what the IEP team decides?

A: If you disagree with the team’s decision about placement, the manifestation determination, or with certain information that the team based its decision on, you can ask for an “administrative due process hearing.” If your child is being referred for expulsion for behavior that you believe is related to the disability, then you may also request an expedited due process hearing.   Write or fax your due process request to the Office of Administrative Hearings at:

Office of Administrative Hearings
Special Education Unit
2349 Gateway Oaks Drive, Suite 200
Sacramento, California 95833-4231
Tel. 1-916-263-0880
Fax: 1-916-376-6319

 

Read the user guide Understanding Special Education Due Process Hearings provided by the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Q: What if the team decides that my child's disability did NOT cause the bad behavior?

A: If the team decides that the disability did not cause the bad behavior, and that your child had the right educational placement, your child will be disciplined like any other student, including suspension. Your child can be referred for expulsion and can even be expelled if the local school board decides to expel him or her.

Q: What if the team decides that my child's disability caused the bad behavior?

A: Your child cannot be expelled if his or her disability caused the bad behavior or if he or she did not have the right educational placement when the misbehavior occurred. The IEP team should meet to change the IEP and may have new assessments, provide different services, and change placement.

Q: What if my child is not eligible for special education yet?

A: You may still be able to get special protection if your child misbehaves.

If the local educational agency (LEA) knew about your child’s disability before he or she misbehaved, you can get protection for your child from them.

The LEA knew about the disability if:

  • A parent asked for an assessment or wrote a letter saying he or she was worried about a disability,
  • The behavior proves that the child needs special education, or
  • The child's teacher or someone who works for LEA told the director of special education or other personnel that he or she was worried about the child's behavior.

Q: Where can I get more information or help?

A:  Write or visit the website for:

National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities (NICHCY)

1825 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 700
Washington, D.C. 20009

You can also call them at: 1-800-695-0285.

Or email them at: nichcy@aed.org

Ask them where you can go for help.

You can also read more on this Online Self-Help Center's section on Special Education Rights of Children and Families. And find more links and resources.

Q: Where can I find the law regarding special education?

A:  The information in this section is based on the laws in effect in September 2010. The laws can change at any time. You may want to look at more recent legal references for changes.

Federal Laws and Regulations

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Title 20 United States Code section 1400 and those that follow).

Federal regulations relating to the IDEA, Title 34 Code of Federal Regulations section 300.1 and those that follow.

State Laws

California Education Code sections 56000 and those that follow (on special education) and sections 48900 and those that follow (on school discipline). Click to find these sections.

California Government Code section 7579.5 (on surrogate parents).

California Special Education laws and regulations.

Resolving Your Dispute Out of Court - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find ADR programs in my court?

A: You can contact your court and find out about what programs are available. Your court may have an ADR coordinator who can answer your questions.  Also, most courts’ websites have information on their ADR programs. For more information about your superior court's ADR programs for civil cases.

Q: I am having a dispute with my lawyer about her fees and we have not been able to resolve it. Can I get help?

A: Yes.  The State Bar of California has an arbitration program to help resolve fee disputes between lawyers and their clients. The program is informal, low-cost, and mandatory for a lawyer if a client requests it. You can contact your local bar association for help with the arbitration. In some counties, mediation of disputes about attorney fees is also available. To learn more about fee arbitration, visit the State Bar of California website.

Q: How do I know if my type of dispute is good for mediation or some other type of ADR?

A: Some cases lend themselves to ADR and others do not.  To find out more about ADR processes, and when they may or may not be appropriate.

Q: Can I try ADR before I file a case in court?

A: Yes. In fact, if you can avoid having to file a court case altogether, you will be saving yourself time and money, and a lot of stress that comes with going to court. But, remember that even if you cannot resolve your dispute before you file a case in court, you can still continue to use ADR to work on a settlement after the court case begins.

Q: If I try mediation, do I lose my right to go to court?

A: No. If you try to mediate your case and you are not able to reach an agreement, you still have the right to take your case in front of a judge. Just make sure that, while you are going through the mediation process, you do not miss any deadlines that may come up in your court case.

Q: My trial is a week away. Is it too late to try ADR?

A: No. It is never too late to try to resolve your dispute. The advantages of ADR are still present, no matter how close to the trial you resolve your dispute. In addition to saving you time and money by avoiding a trial, you can still have more control over the final resolution and agreement, and can create an agreement that addresses your concerns better than what a court can do.

Q: I went through arbitration and I am not satisfied with the arbitrator’s decision. Can I still go to court in front of a judge?

A: It depends.  If you agreed to nonbinding arbitration, and you are not satisfied with the arbitrator’s decision, you have the right to ask for a trial and have your case decided by a judge (or jury).

If you agreed to binding arbitration, you waived your right to a trial and to take your case in front of a judge. You agreed to be bound by whatever decision the arbitrator makes.

Q: What are community mediation programs?

A: Community mediation programs can help people with issues like: disputes involving neighbors, landlords and tenants, merchants/contractors and consumers, businesses, family members, co-workers, youth, schools, homeowner associations, seniors and more.

In addition to mediation services, community mediation programs often also offer training in mediation skills, communication techniques and other tools for dealing with conflict. Many programs have services focused on schools including training for youth, teachers and parents, and supporting school-based peer-mediation programs. Community mediation centers also offer group meeting facilitation services for community forums, non-profit organizations and other groups.

Find a community mediation program in your area.

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