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Civil vs Small Claims Court Comparison

Updated May 3rd 2022

3 min read

If you have a legal matter and you're unsure how to handle it, you have several options. One of those might be small claims court, while the other could be a civil court. But which one should you choose, and what's the difference? There are significant differences between the two types of courts, but that doesn't...

Civil vs Small Claims Court Comparison

Civil vs Small Claims Court Comparison

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Kaylin Lo

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If you have a legal matter and you're unsure how to handle it, you have several options. One of those might be small claims court, while the other could be a civil court.

But which one should you choose, and what's the difference? There are significant differences between the two types of courts, but that doesn't mean it's always easy to know where your specific case should be heard. Here are some of the most important things to know about both types of courts to choose the correct option for filing.

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Si‎milarities and Differences Between Small Claims and Civil Court

The biggest issue to consider when deciding to sue in small claims or civil court is that the size and type of the case will be two of the most significant factors. A small dispute that doesn't require legal help is generally better in small claims court, while a larger dispute that may be easiest with an attorney should generally go to civil court. Some jurisdictions have stricter rules about legal representation than others, so it's also essential to make sure you're looking at the details for your state when filing.

As a general rule, small claims court offers:

  • Help for issues with minor property damage, consumer complaints, unpaid wages, unpaid personal loans, and similar concerns
  • Smaller amounts of money, up to $15,000 in some states
  • An average resolution timeframe of weeks to a few months
  • No lawyer is needed in most cases, although most states allow you to have one

That's a different set of overall guidelines from civil court, which typically include:

  • Issues such as divorce and child custody, large scale property damage, juvenile misconduct, child abuse, disputes between a landlord and tenant, and similar types of cases
  • Larger amounts of money, generally over $10,000
  • An average resolution timeframe of months to a year or longer
  • No requirement to have an attorney, but working with one is encouraged

It's important to remember that where you live will affect what works and what doesn't for each court.

Civil and Small Claims Court Variations Across States

The state you live in can significantly impact the details you need to understand for civil court and small claims court issues. For example, states such as California, Nebraska, and Michigan require you to appear in small claims court independently.

Other states allow for legal representation. In some states, the upper limit to sue in small claims is set at $3,000, while it goes as high as $15,000 in others. Following the rules for your state is very important when filing a suit in either type of court.

Ne‎ed Some Help to Get Started?

Filing in small claims court doesn't have to be complicated when you have the right help and support. Working with a professional to sue someone is more manageable and less stressful than doing it independently. You may also have a better chance of a successful outcome with legal guidance. You'll have more information about what to say and what the court will be looking for.

Get Dispute to file your small claims case online today. Win back the money you deserve.

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