How Do I Start a Case?

NOTE: The following section only applies to starting civil and family cases. Criminal cases are initiated by an arrest, citation, or the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office, and Juvenile cases by the Montgomery County Department of Juvenile Services, Department of Health and Human Services, or the State's Attorney's Office.

Representing yourself in a case and need help with the forms? Visit the How Do I Represent Myself? page.

Visit the following pages for the next steps in civil and family cases:

Step 1. File your case

  • To initiate a proceeding, you must file a written statement—a complaint, motion, or petition (which one depends upon the case type)—with either the Civil Department or the Family Department.
  • Forms are available online on the Circuit Court Website, Maryland Courts website, and at the counters of individual Clerk's Office Departments.
  • Read the forms and accompanying instructions before you start filling out the forms. Follow the instructions and fill each form out completely, making sure all names and addresses are correct and consistent throughout the forms. The caption of the Complaint should be “In Montgomery County Circuit Court, Maryland.” The Case Caption should also include the name, address, and telephone number of the Plaintiff (you as the person initiating the case) and the name and address of the Defendant (the person the case is filed against).
  • Be sure to complete either the Civil Domestic Case Information Report (PDF) for a family case or a Civil Non-Domestic Case Information Report (PDF) for a civil case. You must also sign the document as the Plaintiff/person filing the case.
  • Make 2 copies (or 3, if you have named two Defendants) of all the forms, both sides. (The Court does not make copies for you!) One copy is for your records, one copy is needed for “service” on the other party, and the original is for the Court’s file.
  • Bring the ORIGINAL forms and papers and "service" copies that you want to file with the Court to the Civil or Family Department window. The clerk will stamp them as ‘filed’.
  • Pay the filing fee. The fee for filing a new case is $165. The Clerk's Office takes cash, check, or money order. The clerk will give you a receipt with your case number on it.

Step 2. Serve the other party

Once you file your case with the Court, the filed document and a Summons (a Court-issued form directing the person to respond to the complaint, motion, or petition) must be delivered (“served”) to the opposing party by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office (for Montgomery County addresses only), a private process server, a neutral third party, or by certified mail within 60 days. YOU CANNOT SERVE THE OTHER PARTY YOURSELF.

Download the Service of Process Brochure (PDF).

How to Serve the Other Party

Service can be provided in one of several ways:

  • Sheriff
  • Private Process
  • Certified Mail
  • Choose to have someone other than yourself, who is 18 years of age or older and not a party to the case, provide service

If you choose to have service provided by the Sheriff in Montgomery County, their office will notify the Court once service is complete. If service is made by private process, certified mail, or by a Sheriff in another County, however, you must have an Affidavit of Service completed by the person serving the other side, and then file the Affidavit and a copy of the summons, with the Court:

Download the Affidavit of Service by Private Process (PDF)

Download the Affidavit of Service by Certified Mail (PDF)

In situations where you have made several attempts to serve the other side by using different methods, but have been unsuccessful, ask the Clerk of the Court, in writing, to issue a new Writ of Summons if the other side has not been served within 60 days.

People's Law Library of Maryland Frequently Asked Questions About "Service of Process."

Step 3. Wait for the other party to file an Answer

The served party has to respond to a Summons within a certain time, indicating whether or not he/she agrees with the complaint, motion, or petition, and how he/she believes issues listed in the filed papers should be handled. If the respondent fails to file the necessary paperwork (an "Answer") within the time specified on the Summons in the Court, the Court assumes that he or she agrees to its terms.

If the other side does not file an Answer, in order for the case to proceed, you must file a Request for an Order of Default (PDF).

How to Serve an Answer
  • Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the Answer.
  • File your Answer with the Family Department or Civil Department.
  • Mail a copy of the Answer and copies of any other documents that you are filing to the other side.
  • An Answer must be filed within a specified time defined as follows: 
If a party is served The party should answer within
In Maryland 30 days after service
In another state 60 days after service
Outside the United States 90 days after service
How to Serve a Counterclaim with your Answer

If you believe that the other party is at fault, you may file a counterclaim.

  • Fill in the Certificate of Service at the bottom of the Counterclaim.
  • File the Counterclaim and all of the forms attached to the Counterclaim with the Family Department or Civil Department.
  • You may serve the Counterclaim and the forms attached to the Counterclaim by mailing copies to the other side by regular first-class mail, postage prepaid.


Step 4. Before Coming to Court...

A hearing date is automatically scheduled in Montgomery County when you file an Affidavit of Service, when the Sheriff files a Return of Service, or when the other party files an Answer.

If you have to miss your court date because of an emergency, call the Assignment Office (240-777-9000) BEFORE you are scheduled to be in court.

Step 5. On the Day of Your Appearance...

Make sure you arrive at the Circuit Court early.

Check the television monitors in the lobby for the location of the courtroom or hearing room where your case is assigned. If your case is not listed, check with the Assignment Office on the 1st floor of the North Tower (next to the security station at the Maryland Avenue entrance).

If divorce is an issue before the Court or Family Magistrate at the hearing, your witness(es) must corroborate your grounds for divorce. The other side will also have a chance to tell their story and can present the same kinds of evidence. Both sides will have a chance to cross-examine the other side and the other side's witnesses. The Court will not grant a divorce if you do not have a corroborating witness.

It is important to remember that a Magistrate's recommendation is not a court order. A court order must be prepared restating the magistrate's recommendation and signed by a judge to be enforceable.