Riverside Small Claims Court Help
Small claims court is thought to be easy and cheap (and it is compared to civil court). However, small claims court can get expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing.
An advantage of the small claims court is that you do not require a legal representative as lawyers may not represent anybody in small claims court. It costs less to start a claim, the procedure is structured, and your time in front of a judge or commissioner is generally just a few minutes (though you could wait an hour prior to seeing one).
To begin a small claims case, you pay the court a small fee, and generally pay a registered process server to have the debtor served.
Those are the normal costs.
You don’t need to dress up, parking is often free and the paperwork is basic and easy to complete. You may even be able to complete the forms on the internet.
There are downsides to small claims court, including constraints on doing pre-trial legal actions such as discovery. There are also limitations to the kinds of situations you can sue for, and how much you can request.
A small claims judge can determine financial amounts and even require the return of assets to you. Likewise, if your small claims case is appealed by the debtor, the defendant can normally have a legal representative represent them in the appeals court.
If the amount the debtor owes is less than $300, you probably should not sue them, at least not for the reason of recouping your money. It costs money to get a judgment and the costs are not always recoverable.
If the quantity the debtor owes is less than the cash restriction of the small claims court, then you can and should use small claims court.
If the amount the debtor owes is less than twice the cash restriction of the small claims court, you can and should use small claims court because civil court is more costly, and if you need a legal representative, that costs even more. These additional expenses are not guaranteed recoverable.
Small claims court is usually not available for evictions, or when the defendant owes a very large amount. Your best option in these circumstances is civil court.
Presuming small claims is the right court for you, here are a few pointers:
- Have the defendant served by a registered process server
- Make sure you know who you are suing before you sue. They may use alternatiive names or addresses, so you’ll need to verify this information
- Don’t start enforcement actions until the time limit to appeal the judgment ends. In some cases, applying a judgment prematurely might remind the debtor to appeal the judgment
- Verify the debtor’s bankruptcy status. If you learn that the debtor has filed for bankruptcy security, stop attempting to enforce the judgment at least until you know the result of their bankruptcy
Of course, winning your judgment is just the beginning of attempting to collect your cash. Contact the debtor by mail with a formal letter and offer them a payment plan or settlement.
Settling could make sense as it saves you the costs, disappointment and delays of enforcement.
With time and persistence, you could try to apply the judgment yourself. Check your local court and the internet for resources and ideas. There will be additional costs along the way, even if the action does not result in getting you closer to obtaining your judgment. It may just make more sense to stay clear of the expenditures and inconvenience, and hire a judgment enforcer to recover your judgment instead.
If you wish to enforce your judgement yourself, your best tools are discovery (to find the debtor’s assets) and garnishment or levy.
To discover the debtor’s assets, you can pay the court and a process server to compel the debtor to appear in court and bring the files you request.
You can also use the internet to find out more about the defendant. It’s possible they have left damaging evidence on Facebook or Google. Hiring a private investigator is another option, as are public records such as past bankruptcies and property records.
Prior to levying a debtor’s assets, you must know certain information. For bank accounts, you know which bank and branch the debtor uses. To garnish wages, you must know their employer.
To levy the debtor’s possessions, pay for a writ of execution from the court, then pay the Sheriff or a process server to serve the notice to levy.
You could also put a lien on a debtor’s existing or future home. If your first efforts to enforce your judgment fail, consider finding a judgment enforcer. No judgment enforcer can ensure they can recover cash from a debtor, however they are only paid for funds they secure, so you can be sure they will do their best.
If you do collect sufficient money from the debtor to pay what is owed, be sure to file a Satisfaction Of Judgment with the court. This will close the case in the eyes of the court and put an end to your claim once and for all.
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