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How do you answer a small claims complaint?

  • After receiving the summons and complaint, the defendant has 20 days to file a written response (called an answer) with the court. If the defendant fails to file an answer within 20 days, the court may rule in favor of the plaintiff. A counterclaim is a statement by the defendant, not necessarily opposing the plaintiff's claim, but alleging other facts to establish a claim by the defendant against the plaintiff. The defendant's counterclaim may also demand money from the plaintiff; this demand may not exceed $2,500 unless the case is transferred out of the small claims division.

  • If the complaint has been filed in the wrong precinct, the defendant may make a request for a Change of Venue form, which may be obtained from the court. If this motion is approved by the court, the case will be transferred to the proper justice of the peace court.

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How do you prepare for trial?

  • The trial will be scheduled within 60 days from the date the defendant files an answer with the court. The clerk will notify both parties of the time and place of the trial. If either party wishes to postpone the trial to a later date, a Request for Continuance form must be filed with the court by that party. This form may be obtained from the court clerk. Only the most serious reasons will be considered by the court in ruling on this request.

  • Prior to trial, both the plaintiff and defendant should write down the facts and details of the case in the order in which events occurred. Both parties should bring all witnesses and necessary papers (for example, bills, receipts, price estimates, pictures of damage, etc.) with them when they appear for the trial.

  • If the plaintiff and defendant settle the case prior to the trial, the plaintiff should notify the court, in writing, to dismiss the action. A form may be obtained from the court for this purpose.

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What happens at trial?

  • On the day of the trial, both parties must appear on time before the judge or hearing officer and testify. The court will also hear the defendant’s counterclaim, if one has been filed. After both parties have presented their witnesses, testimony and evidence, the judge or hearing officer will make a decision, called a judgment, and record that decision in the court’s records. In most cases the judgment is announced at trial; however, the judge has 10 days to consider the facts in the case, research the law, make a decision and notify the parties of the judgment by mail.

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What happens if you do not appear at the trial?

  • If the defendant fails to appear at the trial, the judge or hearing officer may hear testimony from the plaintiff and his or her witnesses, examine other evidence presented by the plaintiff and enter a judgment against the defendant.

  • If the plaintiff fails to appear at trial, the court may, and probably will, dismiss the case.

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Can the court's decision be appealed or changed?

  • Neither party can appeal the decision of the judge or hearing officer in a small claims case. However, if either party believes the judgment was entered in error, or if there were good reasons for one of the parties not appearing in court, that party may request the court to set aside, or vacate, the judgment. A Request to Vacate Judgment form may be obtained from the small claims clerk and filed with the court.

  • The court will review the motion and notify both parties of its decision.

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If you are the Plaintiff...... If you are the Defendant.........

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How do you collect your money after the case is decided?

  • At the time of judgment, and at the request of the prevailing (winning) party, or on the judge’s initiative, the judge is to order the judgment debtor (the losing party) to participate in a debtor’s examination hearing to determine ability to pay. The hearing, which may be held immediately after judgment or within 10 days, may be conducted by the judge, hearing officer, a person authorized to administer oaths, or a court employee designated by the judge. The losing party will be required to provide the court with information on his/her debts and liabilities–for example, money, property, loans and support payments.

  • The amount determined by the judgment is due and payable immediately after the judgment is rendered. If the losing party does not make full payment, the winning party may request the court to issue a Writ of Execution or Writ of Garnishment. If these writs are not effective in collecting the judgment, obtaining an attorney may be helpful. 

  • Please note: it is not the role or responsibility of the court to enforce or collect the judgment on behalf of the parties.

25 August 2009 ©2002 Arizona Supreme Court.  All Rights Reserved. Top of Page