When filing a small claim, many can get frustrated with the process. People often turn to small claims for a quick resolution. Here, we will walk you through the process of filing a small claim from start to finish.
A small claims court case takes about 2—3 months to conclude from start to finish. The first step requires submitting the initial paperwork to file the lawsuit, which takes two to four weeks.
Any additional delays beyond the normal filing timeframe stem from delays within the court itself and likely have nothing to do with any errors on your part. Serving the defendant a notice that you’ve decided to sue them can also take around two weeks during the small claims filing process.
To expedite the process, give the proper attention to the following steps:
- Formatting and filling out all the filing forms correctly the first time. Double-check that you’ve satisfied the filing requirements outlined by the courts.
- Finding out the fastest filing methods with the local court system. Some courts respond faster based on whether you file via fax, electronically, in person, or by mail.
- Arranging for the defendant to receive their summons quickly. Information you have regarding their most recent location is helpful in this situation.
How Long Does Each Step Take to File a Small Claim?
Each step has a different timeframe depending on the proceeding action you take. However, certain online services exist that streamline the process for you.
1. Preparing the Paperwork for Your Small Claim
With an online filing service, it is possible to complete the paperwork in under 10 minutes. Otherwise, someone acquainted with the process takes about 30 minutes to complete the filing documents. If you need to research how to answer each question correctly, this step could take up to two hours.
2. Filing Out the Small Claims Paperwork
E-filing takes about 30 minutes and is usually the most efficient option for getting the paperwork to the courts. Otherwise, printing the paperwork and running the errand to USPS takes an hour or two, assuming you own a printer. In-person filing may take up to three hours if you deal with a long line at the clerk’s office.
3. Serving the Defendant
A professional process server or sheriff typically takes around 7-10 days to chase down the defendant. However, this takes place after the filing process, so there’s no trial delay. The most challenging part of this process is catching the defendant at home – or even getting them to answer the door.
4. Court Hearing
The average American small claims hearing lasts only about 15 to 30 minutes. However, you'll have to wait for the judge to hear the other disputes before they call your case.
Ways to Speed Up the Small Claims Process
You have several options for potentially speeding up the process to receive your day in court faster. Using a combination of the following options could substantially reduce your waiting period.
- Hire a lawyer or take advantage of a quality online service to fill out and file the paperwork on your behalf. The best service providers will contact the courts to determine if any delays are causing roadblocks.
- Hire a professional process server to give the defendant their notice to appear. It’s possible to save money by asking a friend to do this, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be successful.
- Always adhere to the time given to you by the courts. You'll receive a specific court date and time to appear once the filing process concludes. If you’re late, the judge might skip your case, so you'll need to repeat the process from the beginning.
It’s easy to make mistakes during the filing process. Even assuming the paperwork is filed correctly, submission to the courts and serving the defendant takes time.