Skip to main content">Moms Fight Back">Moms Fight Back">Moms Fight Back


Family Court Vs. Criminal Court: What are the Differences?

Family court and Criminal court are two distinct systems of law.

Understanding and navigating the differences between the two courts can be challenging, especially in cases of domestic violence where there can appear to be overlap. There is a big difference in whether a case is heard in one court or the other, which seriously affect decision outcome.

Traditionally, family court is a court of equity where the outcome is remedied to resolve issues fairly for all individuals involved. Matters are considered private between two contesting parties. Criminal court is a legal battle wielding power by the State against an accused individual for crimes against society which are punishable by the full extent of the law. It is not required that a victim bring forth charges to an accused, as in cases such as kidnapping, where the State charges a kidnapper and the victim stands as a witness for the Prosecution.

How child custody decisions are made is largely determined on whether parents are: married, married seeking a divorce, divorced, unmarried parents involved in custody dispute, a non-parental/third-party. (Find Law)

For example, according to, regarding how courts decide child custody of the children and childcare decisions, courts in Colorado no longer enter custody orders. Instead, courts determine the “allocation of parental responsibilities.” Parental responsibilities include parenting time and decision-making.

The disproportionate number of judgeships to caseloads in the U.S. makes for a clogged and overloaded system.

According to Find Law:

Cases Filed Annually:
State Court: 30,000,0000 cases filed
Federal Court: 1,000,000 cases filed

Number of judgeships authorized:
State Court: Approximately 30,000 judgeships
Federal Court: Approximately 1.700 judgeships

Which is why civil court cases rely heavily on non-judicial personnel (mediators, evaluators, social workers) to hear and facilitate case decisions and agreements.

Here we have outlined the basic differences between Family Court and Criminal Court:



  • Also known as Civil Court
  • Handled by the Superior Court at the State level
  • Hears cases related to family and domestic relationships
  • Considered private matters requiring mediation
  • Not considered an offense to the public
  • No legal representation from the State: most cases assigned to non-judicial personnel, but can use private attorney
  • Standards of evidence: a “preponderance of evidence.” Reasonable doubt is not required
  • Counter charges by either or both contesting parties are admissable, even in cases where the court has been petitioned for protection from a violent abuser


  • Federal Court
  • Strict and uniform set of procedures followed
  • Heard by judge or jury trial
  • State vs accused that has committed a crime (an offense to the public)
  • Legal representation by the State or private attorney
  • Standards of evidence: “beyond a reasonable doubt”
  • Accused cannot make counter charges against the victim
  • If convicted, a judge issues a sentence bu prosecution, monetary fine/restitution to the victim and/or supervision in the community

For More Information:

The Leadership Conference, a civil and human right coalition 

Womens Justice Center  

United States Courts: Compairing Federal & State Courts

Criminal Trial Procedures: An Overview

Colorado Legal Service


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *