The Alabama Court System:
Types, Structures and Court Divisions

Alabama's court system can be very confusing since not much information about court structure and case coverage is online. We have attempted to simplify the details so you at least know which court has which records. Addresses of county courts and available online databases are listed on the county pages.

Court records include adoption records, criminal records, deeds, divorce records, property records, tax records, wills, and much more. Some records are held by Alabama courts that have not actually been heard in court, such as marriage records (held by probate courts).

Types of Court Records:

Dockets

Dockets or court calendars are lists of cases heard by the court. These usually list the names of the parties involved, the date of the case, the case file number, and other documents related to the case. Dockets serve as a table of contents to the case files and may or may not be indexed.

Minutes

Court minutes are condensed daily accounts kept by the clerk of the court. These include the names of the plaintiff and defendant and a brief description of the action taken. These are not usually indexed.

Orders

Court orders are specific judgments or orders made by the court. They usually include a brief description of the case and the outcome. Some court orders, such as granting citizenship, appointing guardians, and re-recording of deeds to replace destroyed land records—are not found in any other court records.

Case Files

Case files contain the most information for a family history researcher or genealogist. These consists of all the loose documents relating to the case, such as the copies of evidence, testimony, bonds, depositions, correspondence, and petitions. To request a case file the number given it for recording must be found in the docket, the minutes, or an index.

Other types of records that can be found at a courthouse are those submitted and recorded by an individual such as wills, deeds, business contracts, land contracts, and more.

Types and structure of courts in Alabama:

Courts of limited jurisdiction:

District Court: 67 courts, 98 judges.

Alabama is divided into three judicial districts which are then further split into divisions

The Northern District consists of seven divisions:

  • Eastern Division:
    Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, and Talladega Counties.
  • Jasper Division:
    Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Walker, and Winston Counties.
  • Middle Division:
    Cherokee, DeKalb, Etowah, Marshall, and St. Clair Counties.
  • Northeastern Division:
    Cullman, Jackson, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, and Morgan Counties.
  • Northwestern Division:
    Colbert, Franklin, and Lauderdale Counties.
  • Southern Division:
    Blount, Jefferson, and Shelby Counties.
  • Western Division:
    Bibb, Greene, Pickens, Sumter, and Tuscaloosa Counties.

The Middle District consists of three divisions:

  • Eastern Division:
    Chambers, Lee, Macon, Randolph, Russell, and Tallapoosa Counties.
  • Northern Division:
    Autauga, Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Chilton, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes, Montgomery, and Pike Counties.
  • Southern Division:
    Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry, and Houston Counties.

The Southern District consists of two divisions:

  • Mobile Division:
    Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington counties.
  • Selma Division:
    Dallas, Hale, Marengo, Perry, and Wilcox counties.

District courts in Alabama handle cases ($3,000-$10,000) concerning tort, contract, small claims, real property rights, felony, misdemeanor, DWI/DUI, juvenile, and preliminary hearings.

No jury trials.

Probate Court: 68 courts, 68 judges. No jury trials.

Types of records held by probate courts are cases related to mental health, estate distribution after a persons death, and adoption. Called the Orphans Court in early Alabama, records of wills, guardianships, heirs, estate proceedings, and some birth and death records before 1881 may be found in the early files. Marriage licenses from 1799 were issued by the orphans court and that has carried over to today's probate court.

Municipal Court: 258 courts, 174 judges. No jury trials.

Types of records held by Municipal Courts are misdemeanor cases, DWI/DUI and other traffic violations in the municipal area. They retain exclusive ordinance violation jurisdiction.

Court of General jurisdiction:

Circuit Court: 41 courts, 142 judges. Civil courts have jury trials.

Circuit courts in Alabama handle juvenile (under 18 years of age) and domestic cases, felony, misdemeanor, DWI/DUI, tort, contract, and real property rights up to $3,000. Civil court has exclusive criminal and civil appeals jurisdiction.

Intermediate Appellate (Appeals) Courts:

Court of Civil Appeals: Five judges sit in panels (usually three sit and judge a case at the same time with the most senior judge serving as the presiding judge).

This court has mandatory jurisdiction in appealed civil cases of less than $50,000. The Supreme court may also transfer cases to the Court of Civil Appeals that fit within its appellate jurisdiction.


Court of Criminal Appeals: Five judges sit en banc (all five sit and judge the case). The presiding judge is elected by members of the court.

The Court of Criminal Appeals hears all appeals of felony and misdemeanor cases.

Highest Court in Alabama:

Supreme Court of Alabama: Nine justices, a chief justice and eight associate justices, sit in panels of five or en banc.

This court has exclusive jurisdiction over all appeals where the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000. It also may make rules governing administration, practice, and procedure in all courts in Alabama.

Online access to court records:

Court Record Access.  The State of Alabama's Unified Judicial System maintains the State Judicial Information System which contains trial court data for each of Alabama's 67 count.  Subscription-based access has a start up cost of $150  and a monthly fee.  Cases include civil, criminal,  traffic, domestic relations and child support, outstanding alias warrants, trial court dockets, and attorney case information.

Alacourt.com
Offers access to trial court records of all counties for $150.00 + cost of monthly service subscription.