Small Claims Court

Small Claims

If you are owed money or recompense for an amount under $5,000.00, small claims court might be for you.

Small claims is an informal hearing, set before a judge, where you can outline why you believe you are owed money. The judge will hear both sides of the issue, look at the evidence and then make an immediate judgment for monies owed.

A judgment doesn’t ensure payment, however, it shows you have a legal right to payment but does not go after those funds. This may lead to taking collections actions next. Collection action can lead to bank account garnishments or liens on property, but are an added expense and action.

To begin a case, go to your local county courthouse and submit a Notice of Small Claims. You will need to sign the document while there, and pay the filing fee.

Costs are minimal, the filing fee is usually under $30, and you must serve court documents to the other party. While you cannot serve the papers yourself, you can pay a firm or a sheriff to do this, have a friend (not connected with the case) do it for you, or send the papers through certified mail with delivery confirmation. There are also transportation costs, and time taken off work. If a judgment is found in your favor, you can ask for reasonable costs to be added to the original debt.

You may seek an attorney’s advice at any point, but they cannot appear on your behalf at the hearing. Some common advice is to provide as much documentation as you can (emails, photos, documents, bank records), and to always keep calm while talking to the judge.

Check your local state court webpage for more information.

Ask a Lawyer: When Kids Choose

Question

I’ve heard that once a child reaches 12 years old, he or she can decide which parent to live with. Is this true?

Answer

Not in Washington. Unlike many states, including California, Washington tries to keep children away from court altogether in custody disputes. In fact, Washington courts often react quite negatively to a parent even saying “But my son keeps telling me he’d rather live with me.”

The courts take the “best interests of the child” seriously, but don’t believe that children should decide where they should live any more than they should decide about tattoos, alcohol, or staying in school—they’re children. Instead, the courts look to other indications of whether a child is thriving in the home he or she is living in—such as grades, socialization in school, etc.

As a practical matter, once a child reaches 16 or 17—and can drive—even though a court will not hear their testimony on custody matters, the court will often not interfere with a child who simply drives to the house in which he or she wants to spend time.