What is small claims court, and how does small claims court work?
Small claims court doesn’t mean the amount of money you can win is small. Each state has different limits on how much you can win in court, ranging from 2,500 to 25,000. There is so much variance between state and county laws for small claims, so it may be helpful to check out this guide on finding relevant laws for small claims court.
Lawyers are not required in small claims court, and in some states, they aren't allowed in court. So people find small claims to be a more financially feasible way to access justice. Small claims court is also faster than regular court.
Still feeling hesitant? Read about some misconceptions about small claims court, and see if you're still feeling unsure.
How Much Does Small Claims Court Cost?
Different states have different filing fees. Some charge based on the claim amount, while others have a flat rate. For example, in California, fees can range from $30-70.
Filing with Dispute makes navigating these fees easy. Purchase a package with us, and we'll help you find this information stress-free.
Steps to File in Small Claims Court
At any stage of filing when small claims, your case can be settled or dismissed. Make sure you're filing within the proper amount of time after the incident occured. This is also known as the statute of limitations, an it varies in different situations.
Write and Send a Demand Letter
It is necessary to communicate with the defendant that you demand payment. This form of communication is also known as a demand letter, and it is essential to send one before filing in court.
Many cases are resolved through strongly worded demand letters. And it is also advantageous to send a letter on professional letterhead. Online services like Dispute offer help in writing a demand letter. Depending on the package you purchase, you can get a professional worded letter on official letterhead. Or you can use our DIY services and write it yourself.
Next, you'll have to send the demand letter. Postage, a printer, and access to a mailbox can be a hassle to find. If you want to save yourself the struggle, you can send your letter in a click with Dispute's services.
Fill Out and File Appropriate Forms
Here's a list of some information you'll likely need to know when filling out the form. While it's not an exhaustive list, it may be helpful to have this information on hand when doing your small claims paperwork.
Courthouse. Your form will ask you to select a courthouse, but it isn't always straightforward. While convenient, you can't always choose the closest courthouse. Although inconvenient if you live far away, filing where the defendant lives can save you time by avoiding any mistakes in filing.
If the defendant's courthouse is still too inconvenient (perhaps it’s out of state), you can also file where the incident occurred. The rules for where you can file are based on the type of incident.
After figuring out where you want to file, courthouse websites all have guides on filing a case in their jurisdiction. Pay attention to the rules of the particular courthouse in which you’re filing. Although the regulations across courthouses are typically very similar, they can vary in small ways. If you’re inattentive, your case could take a few extra months.
Some courthouses, for instance, have mandated e-filing while others allow filing in person and others allow filing by mail. Dispute’s self-help tool makes the filing process painless.
- If you’re filing by mail, be sure to include the exact payment in an accepted form and to include your copy of the form in the envelope. The courthouse will mail it back to you with additional information, such as the date they scheduled your hearing.
- Defendant name. You'll most likely need a corporation's registered agent. Scroll to the bottom of the page - we found it for you.
- Description of the incident, including the date, time, names of witnesses, or relevant evidence
After completing the forms, you need to send them to the court. In general, courthouses require you to fill out each form three times. You’ll keep a copy for yourself after the clerk fills out their part of the form. The court will keep a copy, and the defendant will receive a copy when you notify them that you’re suing them.
Next, you'll need to pay the filing fee, depending on state and county. There are many different filing methods, so check which one your courthouse accepts.
Sounds like a lot of work? Consider filing with Dispute and take out the research and guesswork. Answer questions on our dashboard and let our agents take care of the rest.
Defendant service is when the defendant is informed that they have been sued. Some courts will complete defendant service for you, like New York. But sometimes, it is the plaintiff's responsibility to serve the paperwork.
It is possible to hire a process server online. Or you can ask a relative. However, someone must have a few qualities to serve documents legally. They may have to attempt service several times if the defendant is hard to find.
You can purchase defendant service from Dispute if you'd like to outsource this work. Then, instead of managing it on your own, our agents will take care of it and update you if there are any issues.
You have to serve the defendant before the date of your hearing. If you fail to do so, you'll have to file a postponement, which means your trial will be rescheduled. If you fail to file, your case will be dismissed.
Attend Your Hearing
You can finally attend your hearing if you've made it this far.
You’ll still get to go to court and explain your case. To win, you’ll have to prove that what you’re saying happened is more likely than the other side’s explanation and prove that your explanation likely happened. If it’s a tie, the person you’re suing will win.
Show up to court on the day the clerk tells you and argue your case. Focus on what the evidence proves and how. Be polite and respectful.It would help if you prepared folders or packets of evidence with a table of contents. You should have at least three complete packets: one for yourself, one for the judge, and one for the defendant.
If you have witnesses, you will have to question them.
Be familiar with your evidence. Know your timeline well and have a list nearby if you get nervous and forget. Practice makes perfect.
You've won in court. Now what?
Check out the following guides if you still have questions.