Understanding Different Tennessee Courts

At Parker and LaDuke, our Knoxville attorneys have handled cases in all of the different Tennessee courts. Below is some information on each of the courts.

Tennessee Circuit Courts

Circuit courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases. In some cases, the circuit courts may share jurisdiction with another type of Tennessee court. In districts that have criminal courts, circuit courts will generally not exercise jurisdiction over criminal cases. Those cases will be heard in criminal court. In Knox County, Tennessee, there is a circuit court specifically designated to hear domestic relations cases called the Fourth Circuit Court.

Tennessee Chancery Courts

Chancery courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over most cases of an equitable nature and generally handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts. Chancery courts share jurisdiction over certain types of civil cases with other courts. Chancery courts do not handle cases with certain kinds of unliquidated damages, but a chancery court may hear most civil cases if no objection is raised. Chancery courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases filed by the state against corporations, certain types of requests by creditors and cases involving disputes over the boundaries of land. Chancery court has concurrent jurisdiction with circuit court to hear domestic relations cases.

Tennessee Criminal Courts

Criminal courts and circuit courts share original jurisdiction over all criminal cases. In districts that have criminal courts, circuit courts will generally not exercise jurisdiction over criminal cases.

Tennessee General Session Courts

General session courts have jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases, including personal injury and family law. Criminal cases heard by general sessions court include preliminary hearings in all criminal cases, misdemeanor trials when a jury has been waived and most violations of municipal ordinances. Levels of jurisdiction for a general sessions court may vary from county to county. The general sessions court exercises jurisdiction previously granted to justices of the peace for civil and criminal cases.

Tennessee Juvenile Courts

A juvenile court is a division of general sessions court, unless a county or municipality has established a separate juvenile court. The juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over most juvenile delinquency and other juvenile cases, including juvenile dependency, child abuse (dependency and neglect), minors alleged to be unruly and judicial consent to employment or military enlistment. Paternity cases, custody, child support and other matters related to children of unmarried parents are heard by the juvenile courts, which share jurisdiction in these matters with the circuit and chancery courts. For more information on Tennessee Juvenile Courts please see our Juvenile Court Issues practice area.

Tennessee Probate Courts

Probate courts have exclusive jurisdiction over the probate of wills and the administration of estates, as well as jurisdiction over guardianships and conservatorships. Jurisdiction in these matters is often shared with chancery court, circuit court and general sessions courts.

Tennessee Municipal Courts

Also referred to as “city courts,” municipal courts regularly handle most municipal ordinance violations and certain types of criminal cases. Municipal court jurisdiction varies from city to city, including the levels of fines and incarceration a particular municipal court can impose.

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