Were you wronged by a business? Do you have a money dispute that you’ve failed to resolve? You might have a strong case in a small claims court.
However, most people who file cases in the small claims court are never prepared for the reality that awaits them in these courts.
Before you file a case in a small claims court, educate yourself with the nitty-gritty of how these courts work. It will help you make a strong case and boost the chances that a judgment will be made in your favor.
In this post, I’m going to share a couple of important things that you must know before you take your case to a small claims court.
It’s a people’s court
By this I mean it’s not your typical court where attorneys file paper work for you and even go ahead to present your case before the judge. Small claims is a place where you represent yourself; file some paper work, get a court date, and then go meet a judge and tell your side of the story.
The defendant will tell their story too and the judge will weigh the merits of each side and make a decision.
You have very limited time to make your case
In small claims court, you’re typically given up to 10 minutes to make your case (in some cases 5 minutes). Needless to say, you need to get your facts ready and you have to stick to them throughout.
You need to be thoroughly prepared. That is, prepare your evidence well in time (checks, receipts, agreements, etc.) and make sure you can clearly present it in the limited time you’re allowed in court. Save any drama for another place.
A good way to get a feel of what you’ll go through is to witness a case in a courtroom ahead of time to see firsthand what you should prepare for.
The hardest part is after the judgment
What a lot of people don’t know before filing a case in a small claims court is that the hardest part usually comes after judgment is passed.
What makes this phase hard is that most times the defendant does not want to pay. In this case, you must be prepared to go through a nasty collections process that, in some situations, may involve a separate legal process.
In other instances, the defendant may be willing to pay but they don’t have the money readily available. A good number of cases in small claims courts involve debtors who are either broke or simply very good at hiding their finances, which makes collecting your winning very difficult.
To avoid such headache, start with the end in mind. Do your groundwork and determine whether it’s even worth it filing a case in the first place, which brings me to the next important point.
You may spend more money and never recover it
If judgment is passed in your favor and the defendant refuses to pay for some reason, you may have to spend more money in the collections process. What’s worse, there’s no guarantee that you’ll eventually be able to collect any money from the defendant.
The fact is there are many legal ways to force a defendant to pay you. However, there are debtor protection laws as well and these may put limits on the avenues you can use to force the defendant to pay you. For instance, it’s illegal to seize certain types of property from a defendant, such as household stuff from their house, clothing, and food, among others.
What does this mean to you? It means that you can exhaust all the legal avenues available to you and still fail to collect a dime.
So, once again, it’s always important to start with the end in mind. If your debtor is currently unemployed, for instance, then chances are you’re headed for a stressful collections process, in which case it’s much better to use your time for other productive things.
Success in a small claims court is not when the judge says that you’ve won. Rather, it’s the ability to successfully collect the judgment.
The key is to do thorough groundwork about your debtor before filing a case. Sometimes it’s not worth it to file a case and you can save yourself a lot of unwanted stress trying to chase after a deadbeat debtor.