Last updated: October 17, 2013
Bienvenidos a Miami! Over five million people live in this sprawling city on Biscayne Bay, but Miami is more than a spring break destination. Located on the southern tip of Florida, Miami is the gateway to the Caribbean; locals know you have to experience the Cuban-American fusion of cuisine and music to understand our culture. Also, it is generally understood that some individuals prefer Miami to Cleveland. Much as we’d like to think otherwise, however, all is not always rosy in our town. Disputes arise, and when they do, we may need to turn to (or end up at!) one of the many Miami courts to address the problem.
The Florida court system is generally divided between big-time Circuit Court and small-time County Court on the trial level. A Circuit Court typically handles felonies and large civil actions, while a County Court handles misdemeanors and smaller lawsuits.
The Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida primarily handles civil cases where the amount in controversy is greater than $15,000 and felony criminal cases arising from Miami-Dade County. The Eleventh Judicial Circuit has four main courthouses, the Richard E. Gerstein Building, the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, the Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse and the Juvenile Justice Center.
The Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building handles criminal cases, including traffic matters. The criminal division operates on two levels, Circuit and County. County Criminal has jurisdiction over misdemeanor arrests, certain civil infractions and municipal ordinance violations, while Circuit Criminal handles all felony cases. Instead of visiting the courthouse, save the hassle by paying your traffic ticket online instead. The best place to park is Civic Center Lot #25 at 1355 N.W. 12 Ave.
The historic Miami-Dade County Courthouse handles civil and probate matters. The civil division operates on two levels: Circuit Civil and County Civil. Circuit Civil has jurisdiction over civil matters where the amount of damages sought exceeds $15,000, while County Civil has jurisdiction over small claims court (up to $5,000), actions for damages below $15,000 and landlord/tenant cases. The Probate Division oversees the distribution of deceased individuals’ estates. The elevators are really slow, and the line at the metal detector is always packed, so be sure to arrive early. Check out their public law library on the second floor, with a vast array of legal resources, computers, copiers and plenty of work space. The best place to park is the Miami-Dade Cultural Center Garage at 50 N.W. 2nd Ave.
The Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse Center handles exclusively family law cases, including domestic violence. If you need help navigating your family law issue, try using their Self-Help Program. They will provide you with a packet of all the necessary forms and then review the forms for completeness (for a price). If you seek a restraining order against an abusive family member, fill out their intake questionnaire first to save yourself some time. The best place to park is the Miami-Dade Cultural Center Garage at 50 N.W. 2nd Ave.
The Children's Courthouse and Juvenile Justice Center handles only juvenile delinquency cases, where children have been charged with a criminal offense, and juvenile dependency cases, for child abuse or neglect. They also have programs specifically targeted at juvenile alcohol or drug use. Juvenile cases are geared toward rehabilitation rather than punishment, and to that end the Children in Need or Services program provides a lighter touch by granting families access to a continuum of social services.
In addition to the four primary courthouses, there are five full-service District Court locations spread throughout the county. You can typically file civil cases, receive marriage licenses, take care of traffic or parking tickets, or file for uncontested divorce at these locations.
The Coral Gables Branch handles routine filing and traffic matters for southern Miami. It is a bit secluded, but this means it is usually fairly empty. There is free parking right next to the building.
The North Dade Justice Center handles routine filing and traffic matters north of Miami. It has a DMV in addition to its court services, but you must make an appointment first. They also boast a domestic violence intake center. The parking situation is awful, so expect to pay.
The South Dade Justice Center handles routine filing and traffic matters far south of Miami. It has a domestic violence room where you can request a restraining order. There is plentiful free parking at the building, look for a red-trimmed entrance.
The Hialeah Courthouse handles routine filing and traffic matters for eastern Miami. The Hialeah Courthouse has a well-deserved reputation for long wait times, big fees and rude employees, so I’d recommend avoiding it unless absolutely necessary. There is no free parking available, so expect to pay.
The Miami Beach Court Facility handles routine filing and traffic matters for Miami Beach. There is no free parking, but should be some parking meters available nearby.
The Overtown Transit Village South building houses several magistrates in charge of enforcing child support. This building also holds the Florida State’s Attorney, which amongst other things, enforces child support payments.
The Third District Courts of Appeal is a state intermediate level appellate court with jurisdiction over all civil appeals and most criminal appeals. Your appeal will likely be hear by a three judge panel. You have no business here unless your case has already been through a lower trial-level court.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida handles federal trial-level matters only. This district sits within the Eleventh Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Federal appeals from the Southern District of Florida are handled in Atlanta. Here is a helpful list of forms for many common legal actions. This court has another two locations, found within a block of this one:
C. Clyde Atkins United States Courthouse
301 N. Miami Ave.
Miami, FL 33128
James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building
99 N.E. Fourth St.
Miami, FL 33132