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What's the difference between Civil and Small Claims Court?

Updated September 1st 2022

5 min read

Small Claims and Civil Court are courthouses that handle different types of lawsuits.

What's the difference between Civil and Small Claims Court?

What's the difference between Civil and Small Claims Court?

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Trey Salm

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Dispute is the easiest & most accurate small claims platform with affordable ways to resolve every dispute.

When you have a legal issue, there are a few different options for taking care of it. You can try to work it out on your own, use mediation or arbitration, or go to court. If you decide to go to court, you may need to decide if you want to file a claim in small claims court or civil court. These two courthouses have some key differences, and it's important to know which one your case is appropriate for.

What is Civil Court?

A civil court case is a lawsuit brought by one person or entity against another person or entity. Most civil cases involve disputes between two people, but sometimes businesses, companies, or even the government can be a party in a civil action. The purpose of a civil action is to resolve a dispute. In most civil cases, the person or entity that initiates the lawsuit is seeking monetary damages from the other party.

In civil court, the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the person being sued) are typically represented by lawyers. The lawyers present evidence and arguments to the judge or jury, who then decide the case. The losing party may be ordered to pay damages to the winning party.

The burden of proof in civil court is often "preponderance of the evidence," which means that the plaintiff must show that it is more likely than not that what he or she is claiming is true. In other words, the plaintiff must show that it is more probable than not that the defendant is liable. This is a lower burden of proof than in criminal court, where the plaintiff must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, but a higher burden of proof than small claims court typically require.

Many civil courts will offer a jury trial. This is when a trial in which a group of people, selected from the general population, decides the verdict. In civil court, you may have a jury trial if you wish. If you do not want a jury trial, you may have a trial by a judge.

The filing fees for civil courts are usually higher than the filing fee for small claims courts. This is because the civil court is a more serious matter, and the stakes are usually higher.

The amount of money in dispute is one of the factors that determine which court hears the case. If the amount of money in the dispute exceeds the threshold of the appropriate small claims court, the case will be heard in civil court.

How to File a Claim in Civil Court

The first step in filing a civil court claim is filing a complaint with the court clerk. The complaint is a document that states the facts of your case and what relief you are seeking from the court. You will need to pay a filing fee when you file the complaint.

After the complaint is filed, the court will issue a summons, a document that notifies the defendant that a lawsuit has been filed against them. The defendant will then have a certain amount of time to respond to the summons. The plaintiff can ask the court for a default judgment if the defendant does not file an answer.

After the defendant's response (or lack thereof), the court will decide if it wants to hold a hearing or make another decision in the case. Speak with your attorney about

Overview of Small Claims Court

Small claims courts have a "limited jurisdiction," meaning they can only preside over certain types of disputes. Many small claims courts only handle cases that involve smaller amounts of money. This is typically about $10,000 or less (varies courthouse by courthouse). 

In small claims court, parties are not usually represented by attorneys, although some people choose to hire one. In small claims court, the plaintiff presents their case to the judge, and the defendant has a chance to respond. The burden of proof is usually lower in small claims court than in civil court. This means you may have an easier time winning your case if you go to small claims court. It also means it can be a good option for people who want to resolve their disputes without spending much on legal fees.

How to File a Claim in Small Claims Court

File your complaint in the appropriate small claims court with the local clerk to start the lawsuit. The court will charge you a filing fee and process the document. Then they (often) will set a hearing date, and you will be expected to be present. If the court rules your favor, the other party will be ordered to pay you what you're owed.

The basic steps of suing someone in small claims court are simple:

  1. Fill out the court's paperwork
  2. File the case in court
  3. Pay court fees
  4. Serve court papers to the defendant
  5. Attend your hearing and explain the reason for suing the defendant.

Small claims court is designed for disputes that involve smaller amounts of money, while civil court is for larger claims. Both courts have their own set of rules and procedures that you will need to follow. Before deciding which one is right for your case, take some time to research both options and talk to a lawyer to get their opinion.

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

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