Basics of Court Forms

When you take a case to court, you must file legal documents that tell the court what the dispute is and what you are asking for. Both sides of a court case must then file more documents giving the court the information it needs to make a decision. There may also be court hearings or a trial where you can present witnesses or present your case verbally, but the written documents you file are a crucial part of any case. Without them, there would be no case in court. 

Judicial Council Forms

To help you make sure that your court documents have the information the court needs, the California courts have created a set of court forms called Judicial Council forms. These forms have boxes you need to check depending on your situation, have blank spaces for you to provide information, and give a lot of other information to both you and the court. Some of these forms are adopted (using them is mandatory) and some are approved (using them is optional, which means you must still provide the information requested on the form, but you can use a different form or just write up the information without using a form).

There are Judicial Council forms for many civil and criminal cases. When you need to file anything with a court, you should always check to see if there is a form for your exact legal problem. Click to find all current Judicial Council forms.

Click if you cannot find a Judicial Council form for what you need to do and need a non-form pleading.

How to find a court form

Forms are either state forms or local forms. Most forms used at court are state forms and are on the state judicial branch's California Courts website. Local forms are usually available on your court's website. Or you can call or go to the clerk's office and ask for the local form you need.

To find Judicial Council forms online:

  • Go to Browse All Froms
  • From the dropdown menu you can choose a group of forms according to the topic your case is about, or, for example, "All Forms Listed by Name" to find all the Judicial Council forms in alphabetical order.

Note that when you see the list of forms, there is a column of form numbers. If you click on the form number, you can either print out the form blank or fill it out online and then print it. Click if you need help understanding how to fill out forms online.

To find a form when you do not know exactly what form you need, you can read the section of this Online Self-Help Center on the topic relating to what you are trying to do and you will probably find the form number and name that you need as well as a link to the form. For example, if you are looking for the form to start a divorce, go to our section on filing for divorce or legal separation. There, you should find instructions that tell you that you need to start with the Petition - Marriage (Form FL-100 | video instructions ) and the form number will be linked to the form itself.

Using Judicial Council forms

Judicial Council forms can be very helpful to you in several ways:

  • Many Judicial Council forms have instructions on the other side of the page that can help you understand how to use that form.
  • There are some Judicial Council forms that just provide information to you. These forms usually (but not always) have the word "INFO" in their number, like FW-001-INFO, which is the Information sheet for fee waivers. These informational forms can be extremely helpful in understanding what steps you need to take to move forward with your case.
  • All Judicial Council forms that are filed with the court tell you on the bottom left corner of the page whether the form is "adopted for mandatory use" (meaning that you must use that form) or "approved for optional use" (meaning that you can create your own form or use a different form-- as long as it has all the required information)
  • Most Judicial Council forms have, on the bottom right corner, the laws or codes that relate to what the form is about. For example, the Petition - Marriage (Form FL-100 | video instructions ) says "Family Code, §§ 2330, 3409." This information can be very helpful to you as you fill out your form and for any legal research. It tells you that you can find the law for divorce in sections 2330 and 3409 of the California Family Code. So if you have a question about something that the form is asking you to fill out and you want to know the law, you can go to these code sections and look it up yourself.

Tips for filling out Judicial Council forms

  • Make sure you have the most current version of the form. All Judicial Council forms have a date on the bottom left corner. This is the date that the form was last updated. Court forms at www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm are always kept up to date. But, forms you may pick up at your local courthouse or find in a self-help book may not be. So, when you pick up a hard copy of a form, compare the date on it against the date on the form online to make sure it is the most current version. You can also ask the court clerk if you have the latest version.

  • Be sure your forms are clear and easy to read. Use blue or black ink or type them. Forms are available online and you can fill them out online too if you have a computer. Click if you need help understanding how to fill out forms online.

  • On most forms you need to write your legal name, current address, and daytime phone number in the box at the top of the first page. If you do not want to write your home address, use another address where you can get mail. The court will send your court papers to this address. You can also provide your email address, but this is optional.

  • Most forms have a "caption" on the first page that you always need to fill out. The caption contains your name, address and phone number, the court's address, the names of the parties in the case, and the case number. You should always fill out the caption the same way to avoid confusing the court. If your address changes, make sure you also file a "Change of Address" with the court.

  • If you do not have a lawyer, write "Self-represented" on the "Attorney for" line on all court forms.

  • Fill out your forms completely and accurately. If something does not apply to you, write "N/A." This means "not applicable."

  • Sign each form where your signature is requested. Use blue or black ink only. Notice if the form is asking you to sign it "under penalty of perjury," which means that when you sign it, you are swearing that what is on the form is true and correct to the best of your knowledge.

  • Fill out your forms 1 section at a time. If you have questions about a section, leave it blank until you can get your questions answered.

  • If you need help filling out your forms, you can ask the court's self-help center or a lawyer, or go to a public law library and ask the librarian for books that can help you (or use the Ask the Law Librarian service).

  • Make copies of all your forms. If a form has writing on both sides, make sure you copy both sides. Always keep a copy for yourself.

  • Keep a clean copy of all of your court papers in a folder in a safe place.

  • Bring your folder with you every time you go to the clerk's office, a court hearing, the court's self-help center or facilitator's office, or if you go see a lawyer.

Non-form Pleadings

Sometimes there will not be a Judicial Council form for what you need to do. In that case, you will need to draft or create your own legal document, in the right format and following the court's rules. The California Rules of Court, starting with rule 2.100, tell you what is required for any documents you file with the court.

You will have to start with "pleading paper." Your word processing program may have a template for pleading paper. Or ask your court's self-help center, family law facilitator or public law library for a sample or blank pleading paper.

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