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Delaware takes pride in being the first state to join the Union, on Dec. 7, 1787. At the very top of the state’s court Web site, visitors are reminded that Delaware’s system is “The First State Judiciary.”

The court system’s structure is in some ways a bit more complex than in many states. Delaware has seven primary court venues: Justice of the Peace and Alderman’s courts at the lower end of the spectrum; Family Court; he Court of Common Pleas; Superior Court, which is the state’s chief trial court venue; the Court of Chancery; and, the Supreme Court.

About Delaware's Supreme Court

The Delaware Supreme Court is the state’s only court whose primary jurisdiction is the appellate. The Supreme Court receives direct appeals from the Court of Chancery, the Superior Court and the Family Court.

Delaware has five Supreme Court justices, presently led by Chief Justice Myron K. Steele. Justices are nominated by the governor, and if confirmed by the legislature they are appointed to serve 12-year terms. In an interesting effort to balance the court, by law the Delaware Supreme Court must be composed of three justices from “one of the major political parties,” (Republican or Democrat) while the other two must be from the opposing party.

The justices have final appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases in which the sentence rendered by a lower court exceeds certain minimums, in final judgments on civil cases, and for certain other orders of the Court of Chancery, the Superior Court and the Family Court. The Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction to issue writs of prohibition, quo warranto, certiorari, and mandamus, or to accept appeals of some non-final orders or certified questions.

The Supreme Court also is the administrative head of the Delaware court system. The chief justice, in consultation with his colleagues on the court, sets administrative policy for the court system as a whole. In this role, the Supreme Court maintains various arms to help manage the job, including: The Board of Bar Examiners, which considers the applications and test results of those seeking admission to the state bar; the Commission on Continuing Legal Education, ensuring that legal professionals maintain their level of competence; the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection, a fund from which monetary relief is presented to clients who suffer financial loss as the result of a dishonest lawyer; and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which regulates the practice of law by investigating and, if warranted, prosecuting lawyer misconduct.

The Supreme Court’s online information offerings include: links to its opinions and orders; recordings of oral arguments; a list of administrative directives; a searchable court calendar; and information in e-filing court documents.

DE Superior Court

The Superior Court is Delaware’s court of general jurisdiction, with original jurisdiction over both criminal and civil matters except equity cases. The court has exclusive jurisdiction over felonies and almost all drug offenses. In civil matters, the Superior Court’s authority to award damages is not subject to monetary maximums.

The Superior Court also serves as an intermediate appellate court, fielding appeals arising on the record from the Court of Common Pleas, the Family Court (criminal matters) and a number of state administrative agencies. Appeals from the Superior Court are taken to the Supreme Court.

Because of Delaware’s small size, there are only three counties, and thus three Superior Court venues. Led by the “president judge,” James T. Vaughn Jr., courtrooms are operated in New Castle County, in Kent County and in Sussex County. Online phone, fax and e-mail directors are maintained online for all three courts: New Castle; Kent and Sussex.

Other online information and services of the Superior Court include: e-filing procedures; searchable court calendars; the court’s opinions and orders; and a page on Project Rightful Owner, an effort to return more than $5 million in sheriff’s sale funds to the persons who should receive them.

Delaware Court of Chancery

Handling important matters that fall outside the jurisdiction of Superior Court, the Delaware Court of Chancery has jurisdiction to hear all matters relating to equity. The tribunal deals largely with corporate litigation, trusts, estates and other fiduciary matters, disputes involving land deals and questions of title to real estate, and other commercial and contractual maters.

The Court of Chancery is responsible for developing corporate case law for the state of Delaware. Appeals from the Court of Chancery rise to the Delaware Supreme Court.

The court has five judges, or “chancellors” and “vice-chancellors,” led by Chancellor William B. Chandler III. The judges are appointed to 12-year terms.

A contact list for Chancery Court is available online, as are the court’s opinions and orders, and its recommendations for the best practices in e-filing of court documents.

Delaware Family Courts

Delaware Family Court has extensive jurisdiction that covers virtually all family and juvenile law matters. All civil appeals, including those relating to juvenile delinquency, go directly to the Supreme Court, while criminal appeals arising from Family Court are directed to the appropriate Superior Court.

The Family Court’s chief judge, presently Chandlee Johnson Kuhn, presides over family courts, their judges (up to 17 allowed by law) and their associated staff members in all three Delaware counties.

The Delaware General Assembly has given the family courts authority over a broad array of issues, including: juvenile delinquency, child neglect, dependency, child abuse, adult misdemeanor crimes against juveniles, child and spousal support, paternity of children, custody and visitation of children, adoptions, terminations of parental rights, divorces and annulments, property division, specific enforcement of separation agreements, guardianship over minors, imperiling the family relationship, orders of protection from abuse and intra-family misdemeanor crimes.

Family Court, however, does not have jurisdiction over adults charged with felonies, nor with juveniles charged with first- or second-degree murder, rape or kidnapping.

Among the numerous online resources for Family Court are: information about the Court Appointed Special Advocate program for children (CASA); a child support calculator; and information on parenting education.

Delaware's Court of Common Pleas

The Court of Common Pleas holds jurisdiction over civil cases where the amount in controversy, excluding interest, does not exceed $50,000. The court also handles misdemeanor criminal cases except for certain drug charges, and some motor vehicle violation cases, including habitual offender matters involving motorists. The court also is responsible for holding preliminary hearings in all felony cases.

Additionally, the Court of Common Pleas has instituted a Traffic Court, convening on Tuesdays, for New Castle County.

The court is an appellate venue for lesser courts. It handles appeals from both the Justice of the Peace and Alderman’s courts on criminal matters. Appeals from the Court of Common Pleas arise to Superior Court.

Chief judge of the Court of Common Pleas is Alex J. Smalls. He heads a system of courtrooms in all three Delaware counties, employing nine judges.

Case Opinions from the Court of Common Pleas, the court’s administrative orders, and the court’s searchable calendar all are available online.

Delaware's Justice of the Peace Court

An entry point into the court system is often the Justice of the Peace Court. Here, cases of a civil nature can be heard if the matter in dispute is valued at less than $15,000. In criminal cases, the Justice of the Peace Court can hear certain misdemeanors and most motor vehicle cases (excluding felony driving offenses).

Justices of the peace may also act as committing magistrates for all crimes. The chief magistrate is presently Alan Davis, and a host of justices of the peace serve the three Delaware counties.

Appeals from Justice of the Peace Court arise to the Court of Common Pleas.

The chief magistrate’s legal memoranda are available online. Other useful information regarding Justice of the Peace Court includes: How to start or respond to a civil action; how to initiate or respond to a landlord/tenant dispute; how to collect a judgment in your favor; how to start or contest a garage-keeper’s lien; how to obtain title to abandoned property; and information about traffic cases.

Delaware's Alderman’s Court

Authorized by town charters, the Alderman’s Court system in Delaware has a jurisdiction limited to misdemeanors, traffic offenses, parking violations and minor civil matters occurring within the cities that chartered the court. Specific jurisdictions can vary by town.

Appeals, if filed within 15 days, are taken de novo (for a new trial) to the Delaware Court of Common Pleas.

Delaware's Court Web Sites

Court of Common Pleas

Superior Court of Delaware

Supreme Court of Delaware

Justice of the Peace Court

Judicial Branch of Delaware

Court of Chancery

Family Court

United States District Court - District of Delaware

United States Bankruptcy Court - District of Delaware

Delaware State Courts - Information on court proceedings, the appeal process and hours and locations.

Delaware Court Agencies - Agencies associated with the state courts and how work in conjunction with the courts.

Administrative Office of the Courts - Court information, contacts and court news.

Delaware Court Opinions and Orders - Opinions from all courts organized by date.

Delaware Court Calendars - PDF files of each court calendar for the state.

Delaware Court Forms - Downloadable forms in PDF format for each Delaware court.  Organized by case type.

Delaware Jury Instructions - Instructions by court type and county.

Delaware Court Rules - Rules by board and agency.

County Courthouses Addresses and Telephone Numbers

Kent County Vital Statistics
P.O. Box 637
Dover, DE 19903

Telephone: (302) 739-4721

New Castle County
800 French St.
Belvedere, DE 19804

Telephone: (302) 995-8586

Sussex County
Clerk of the Peace
P.O. Box 29
Georgetown, DE 19947-0609

Telephone: (302) 855-7835


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