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Small Claims Court: What to Expect at a Hearing

We have all caught an episode of Judge Judy at least once in lives before. But how real and accurate is a television account like the real deal? We’re going to let you in on what to expect when you go to a small claims court. 

No one likes surprises and you’ll need to be at your best to respond to questions. It doesn’t matter if you’re the plaintiff or the defendant. You’ll need to have your information in check for when you go into court. 

Settle your nerves with this background information. Here’s what you can expect from a small claims court hearing!

What is Small Claims Court?

Before we get into what to expect, let’s look into what a small claims court is. Small claims courts look like an average courtroom but handle specific cases. They won’t take criminal cases or civil rights for example. 

They deal with a specific genre, “small claims” like civil suits. This could include loans or owing someone money. Some cases you might see in small claims courtroom are:

  • Lack of repayment for car loans
  • Lack of pay for a bill
  • Consumer damages

You can see anything from apartment rental disputes to dog bites and vet bills.

Filing a Dispute for Small Claims Court

To file a complaint against someone, you will need to visit your local courthouse. You will need the basic information on the person you are suing. Most times, there is a fee or court costs you will have to pay to file. 

Research what you need to bring on your local county courthouse website. If not, go in person and ask the clerk of the court for more information. Anytime you step into a courthouse, be professional and respectful!  

What to Expect

There is nothing to be afraid of if you receive a summons. Reading about what to expect will calm your nerves and help you prepare for your hearing. Don’t hold back now, you’ll need to do your research. 

Here’s what to expect during a hearing:

  • Professionalism and serious courtroom ethics and behavior 
  • Formalities from the Judge (being sworn in, to tell the truth, and the classic “all rise”)
  • Fairness even at your expense in a Judge’s ruling 
  • Equality among the defendant and plaintiff
  • Examination of evidence about the claim
  • An opportunity to explain “your side” of the story 
  • A fair ruling 

It’s important to remember the courtroom is a serious environment. You will need to be on your best behavior and refrain from cursing. Think of it as the most important job interview. 

Even if you are standing next to the person you are suing (or who’s suing you) remain calm and courteous. You need to be civil and maintain a respectful attitude. You also don’t want to drop your guard when the Judge is out of the room. 

You are onstage the second you walk into the building. Be on your best behavior throughout the hearing. This gives you the best opportunity to present your case with clarity.  

Preparing for a Hearing

Preparation is vital for any court hearing. You’ll need to do your research on the complaint. Gather any evidence which will help the judge see the truth in the case. 

This means printing any text messages or contracts you have with the other person. Written documentation of business communication is best for evidence. You need proof, not suggestions, of what the complaint is about. 

The Judge will not accept assumptions that the other person is not “good” or “honest.” You need to focus on proving your case to win. Remember a Judge is there to rule for justice according to the law. 

This means the ruling may not go in your favor if you are at fault. Either way, preparing your evidence is vital for the case. This is what is going to do most of the talking for you. 

Even if someone is speaking lies of you, the evidence speaks louder and that’s the Judge’s main concern. 

Dress Conservative and Professional

For both men and women, you’ll want to dress conservative and professional when going to court. It can be an offense to the courtroom if you walk in with vulgar graphic t-shirts or super mini skirts. While we are all for self-expression, there is a time and place. 

Again, the courtroom is a very serious environment. Respect and professionalism should be the top priority. Here’s what’s best to wear in a courtroom: 

  • Slacks (avoid jeans)
  • Closed-toe shoes (women you’ll be standing so consider wearing flats instead of heels)
  • Button down shirt or blouse
  • For women, knee-length career dresses are also suitable

Be aware you will be standing for the duration of the hearing. Dress comfortable, yet professional. Wear comfortable footwear that won’t cause you pain or bother your feet. 

The Day of the Hearing 

Have the date front and center so you don’t forget! This is a date and time you won’t want to miss because it can bring you more problems. Show up on time, and ready to go with all your paperwork. 

You will be a police officer or official that will swear you in. You might have to raise your right hand and promise to tell the truth. You will stand at one podium, and the other person will be at there’s. 

Some states all you a lawyer, but not all. You may have to represent and speak for yourself. Practicing beforehand helps with stage fright. 

The Judge will enter and the hearing will begin. You’ll answer questions and explain to the Judge and the other person will do the same. The Judge may ask you for more evidence. After this, the Judge will rule. 

Getting More Information Before You Go

Small claims court is not as scary as it seems. Abide by the rules, tell the truth, and be respectful at all times. You might even come to enjoy your experience in the courtroom. 

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