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Articles > Small Claims Court > Money Owed

Small Claims Suit Against A Friend or Family Member for Money Owed

By : David Smith
Published here : Nov 13, 2015
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If you’ve given a loan to a friend or a family member, which they haven’t paid back as yet, or simply refuse to pay, it would help considerably if there is a written agreement to be presented to the judge as evidence. Even oral agreements are legally enforceable, as long as they contain the essential contractual terms. These terms should be easily identifiable and precise enough to be enforced by a legal authority.

If the amount owed to you is not much, it may not be a bright idea to hire an attorney to sue them. Hiring an attorney would probably cost you more than the sum under dispute. You should instead file a suit against your friend or family member in a small claims court. Small claims court case limits vary among states, but in a majority of the states, the limit is between $5,000 and $10,000.

Almost all courts have a small claims division where you can file a claim and choose to have your claim heard by the court in quick time, through a simple process. These cases don’t take much time to resolve and don’t require the intervention of an attorney. Most small claims courts are designed to operate without attorneys.

But there is a limit on how much money you can ask for in a small claims court. You are not allowed to appeal a judge’s decision either. This is not a bad thing as it speeds up the whole process and ensures that relatively minor disputes get resolved much faster.

It is easy enough to look for a small claims court in your county using a simple Google search. You can go to the court and fill out an affidavit or a claim form with all the details – your name and contact details, the defendant’s name and contact details and a simple, factual description of the dispute. You will be asked to pay a small fee for filing the case, but this will be returned to you later should you happen to win.

When you file a suit in a small claims court against an individual for money owed to you, be aware that most small claims courts stick to the “no attorneys” rule. So you don’t want the other party to the dispute to hire an attorney to represent them as that would only get the case sent to a regular court.

The court takes care of things such as serving the complaint. You’ll be required to pay a nominal sum for that that, but the cost can be recovered if you win the case later. The court does not expect you to present your case like a legal expert. Just state clearly and simply who owes you money and why you are entitled to it.

Just because the procedures are simplified in small claims courts, the law still remains the same. If your case isn’t strong enough to stand in a regular court because of the law, you shouldn’t expect to get much by filing a suit in a small claims court either. The laws that apply in a small claims court are the same as those that apply in a regular court.

Many small claims courts have a mediation process where you will be asked to meet with a mediator along with the defendant. The mediator tries his best to arrive at a compromise and to resolve the issue without having to go to the court for it. Such interventions work sometimes, but even if they don’t, at least you can make it look like you tried your best to get the issue resolved when presenting your case to the judge.

On the day of the hearing, it is important to be fully prepared. Have enough copies of all the documents made, hand one to the court, another to the defendant and keep one for yourself.   Go to the court as early as possible and watch as many cases as possible. Study how the court functions and what the judge looks for, what works best and what doesn’t.

When presenting the case before the judge, be aware that the judge doesn’t expect you to know the law, but you are expected to know your facts. Write down all the facts on a piece of paper and stick to them at all cost. Don’t get emotional and don’t waste time telling the judge how you feel about the defendant’s actions. Stay calm, don’t speak out of turn and don’t argue with the defendant. Keep your arguments short and factual, have the documents in place and act like a true professional.

Finally, when you’re considering taking a friend or a family member to a small claims court for money owed to you, ask yourself if the person is collectible. There’s no point in getting a judgment in your favor if there is no way for the defendant to pay you back.


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