PDF How to Win in Small Claims Court and Collect

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1. Don't Rush It
  1. Obtain Proof
  2. How To Collect Your Money in a Small Claims Case
  3. About Judgment Enforcement
  4. Tips for Collecting Your Judgment - small_claims_selfhelp

Try arbitration as another alternative to going to court. Arbitration is another system, similar to mediation, that allows you to try to resolve your dispute before going to court. It is generally a bit more formal than mediation and usually a bit more costly, but still more efficient than a trial. You and the defendant each present your case to an arbitrator, who then issues a ruling the way a judge would.

With non-binding arbitration, you can see what the arbitrator awards, and if you are not satisfied with the decision, you still have the right to proceed to court. If you and your defendant would like to try arbitration, contact the court clerk's office. Some courts have their own arbitration panel already established.

For example, the New York City civil court has a volunteer arbitration panel made up of trained lawyers who will arbitrate your dispute for free. Research your local laws regarding small claims cases. If you decide to take your claim to court, you should find out what the local rules are regarding small claims court. Many courts have maximum limits for the amount you can ask for in small claims court. You could reduce your demand so that you fit within the small claims limit, or you could file your case in a higher level trial court. If you choose to proceed in a higher level court, the filing fee will likely be greater, and the procedures will probably take longer.

If you choose to take that option, you should consult with an attorney. Decide where you will file your complaint. Usually, you will file a small claims case at the court that is nearest to you. However, there are rules that may control where you are allowed to file. Your case must generally be filed in the county where one or more of the following is true: [9] the county where the defendant resides the county where the debt was incurred the county where the business involved is located the county where the damage happened the county where the goods involved are permanently kept.

Draft your complaint.

A complaint is the statement in which you state your case and explain why you believe the other party owes you money, and how much you believe you are owed. You may need to write out the claim yourself, although many small claims courts simply have a form for you to complete.

Check with the court clerk to find out what form of payment cash, check credit is required. If you have any evidence to support your claim for money owed, such as a signed contract or receipt for services, you should attach that and file it with your complaint. Get a hearing date.

When you file your complaint, the clerk may notify you of a date for a hearing. Alternatively, some courts will provide notice of a date at some point in the future by mail to both parties.

Obtain Proof

You should check with the court clerk so that you understand the system in your court. Serve the defendant with the complaint and hearing notice. If you are in a court in which it is your duty to serve the defendant with the complaint and hearing notice, you will need to make sure to do this right away. You will need to ask the clerk, or read the court rules, to find out the required system in your court.

How To Collect Your Money in a Small Claims Case

One method is to have someone who is over 18 years old and who is not a party to the case deliver the papers personally to the defendant. This may be a friend or relative, or anyone you choose. Another alternative is to hire a professional process server, sheriff or constable to serve the papers. This is a good idea if you think the defendant might try to avoid the service. A final option is to have the county clerk serve the papers by mail.

In some courts, this may not be an available option. You will have to ask the clerk. When you file the complaint, you must serve the defendant right away. For example, in California, you must serve the court papers at least 15 days in advance of the court date. If the defendant is a person, business, or public entity outside of the county, you have 20 days.

About Judgment Enforcement

Familiarize yourself with the courtroom style. If you have an opportunity, visit the small claims court before you have to appear for your hearing. Watch how the cases are conducted and learn what to expect when your case is eventually called. Collect all evidence that you will need to prove your claim. If you have a contract, bring the contract. If you have receipts, bring them.

If you have copies of checks, or bank statements, or anything that specifically shows the amount of money involved, bring it. Originals are always best, but if you can only get photocopies, that will be better than nothing. The formal rules of evidence are relaxed a bit in small claims court. Encourage any witnesses to appear with you. If you believe that the testimony of witnesses is relevant to your case, try to get the witnesses to appear with you.

Prepare your presentation. Be as organized and direct as possible. The simplest way to collect is the one mentioned in the beginning: ask for your money. Make the request in a professional manner. For some debtors, a formal request letter mentioning the judgment and the fact that it will show up on a credit report is 'inspiration' enough to get them to pay.

If the person is truly in a financial crisis, consider accepting a lower amount. Settling for less now, may save you time and countless headaches later. If you don't want to settle for less and none of the other methods appeal to you, there is one final option.

Tips for Collecting Your Judgment - small_claims_selfhelp

You can call a professional. A collection agency will keep track of the debtor and collect your judgment for you. However, you will have to pay a fee. That means you will have to decide whether getting your judgment is worth the expense. An offer of membership in our legal plan is not an endorsement or advertisement for any individual attorney.

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Similarly, LegalZoom does not guarantee the results or outcomes of the services rendered by our legal plan attorneys or attorney-assisted products. Problems like these are beyond our control and are not covered by this guarantee. If the other party does not voluntarily offer to pay you, you must decide how to proceed to get your payment. You will first need a written document from the court giving you permission to collect on this debt.

This document might be called a writ of execution, writ of garnishment, or writ of attachment it varies by court. Then, with this document in hand, you can consider your options for collecting on that small claims judgment. The options below vary by state; some may not be available in your state:. Many states have specific procedures to follow to help individuals and companies collect small claims judgments.

Hey Howard: How to collect a small claims court judgment

In California , for example, the debtor must give the court a statement of assets. You can then use these assets to decide if you want to put a lien on one to collect. To find out the details of collecting on a judgment in your state, search on "collecting a judgment" and the name of your state. Just Ask.

Don't just walk away from the courthouse shaking your head. Contact the debtor face-to-face is best and ask politely. Say, "When will you be able to give me the money you owe me? Be Persistent. Because people who don't pay their bills are often reluctant to pay even court-ordered payments, you will need to be persistent in asking for the money owed you. The court doesn't automatically force a losing party to pay up; you have to actively work to get the court to garnish wages, put a lien on a property, or initiate an installment payment plan.

State laws differ, so find out your rights for getting your money, and keep going back to the court for help.