Many disputes you haven’t been able to resolve by other means can be decided in small claims court. Some people think going to court is difficult or frightening, but it doesn’t need to be.

This handbook is designed to help anyone who is suing or being sued in small claims court, or who is deciding whether or not to file a small claims court case. This handbook answers questions people frequently ask, and it describes procedures used in most small claims courts.

Your case may be unique, or your local small claims court may have procedures that are a bit different from those described here. Therefore, check with the small claims court clerk or your local small claims adviser before filing your claim. Get advice as soon as possible, so you’ll be well prepared at your small claims hearing.

Small claims clerks can answer many kinds of questions and will provide the forms you need at a minimal charge, and sometimes free of charge. However, the law prohibits small claims clerks from giving legal advice. In most counties, small claims advisers are available to provide free advice and assistance. Small claims advisers can help both sides. They can:

  • Explain small claims court procedures
  • Help you prepare your claim or defense
  • Tell you how to enforce your judgment
  • Help you arrange for payment by installments
  • Answer many other kinds of questions

In this handbook, legal terms are in bold type, and titles of court forms are in bold italics.

Legal terms are defined in the Glossary of Terms.

A Checklist for plaintiffs and defendants.