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How to File in Small Claims Court in Iowa

George Simons | December 01, 2022

It's easy to file a lawsuit in small claims court.

Summary: Having no luck getting paid from someone who owes you money? Filing a lawsuit might be easier than you think. Learn how to file in small claims court in Iowa.

There are times in life when you may need to seek help from the court to collect payment from someone. Known as small claims court, this is a simple legal process that serves to resolve civil disputes.

As its name implies, only small claims apply. If you're trying to collect a money judgment that equals $6,500 or less, a small claims court is likely your best option. This could be for collecting unpaid rent from a tenant, for example.

If you live in Iowa and require the services of a small claims court, Iowa has specific instructions for starting a small claims case. It's important that you understand these instructions so that you can begin the process properly and defend yourself accordingly.

File Electronically to Begin Your Case in Small Claims Court

Unlike other court matters, your case won't be tried before a jury. Instead, a judge ultimately decides who wins the small claims case. As such, you need to be prepared to undergo a different court process than what you might be used to.

If you are the one who is seeking a money judgment, you will first need to file an Original Notice form. The form is free to fill out. But to have it filed, you will be required to pay a fee of $95. You may also be required to pay a fee to have your petition served to the person you're trying to collect payment from.

The moment that you have filled out the necessary form and paid all applicable fees, your case will have officially begun. It's important to note that you must file electronically unless otherwise permitted by the small claims court.

Iowa doesn't permit paper filing, so you'll need express approval from the court to do so. Failure to adhere to this is likely to result in your needing to file again.

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Your Representation Is Important in Small Claims Court

Assuming the other party responds promptly, the court clerk will schedule your hearing before the judge. For the most part, a judicial magistrate will hear your case. However, any judge can hear a small claims case.

At your hearing, you need to know what to expect so that you can come prepared. Unlike other court matters, small claims court Iowa is informal and straightforward. But that doesn't mean you want to neglect a sense of professionalism.

Let's take a moment to observe some common practices of small claims court so you'll know what to expect. As you will soon learn, although small claims cases aren't as formal, your representation is still of the utmost importance.

How to Represent Yourself in Small Claims Court in Iowa

Like other court hearings, you need to show up on time. Arriving late or missing your court date altogether, the judge could enter a default judgment and award victory to the other party. As such, it's a good idea to show up early if you aren't familiar with the layout of the court.

This will ensure that you know where you're supposed to go so you can be sure to be on time. You may need to inform court staff that you have arrived, as well. Not being present in the courtroom when the judge calls your case could result in a default judgment in favor of the other party.

You must follow all court rules at all times. No exceptions will be made, even if you are the one who filed the small claims case. It is therefore essential that you conduct yourself in the highest regard. You should take the time to review Iowa's Court Rules so that you are aware of proper court conduct.

This includes dressing appropriately. Even though your case is considered “small,” you should still uphold the tradition of the courtroom. Don't wear a baseball cap or overly casual clothing. Dress how you would if you were attending church or a funeral.

Unless you are adamant about representing yourself, it may prove beneficial to speak with an attorney and have them present for your hearing. Depending on the complexity of your small claims case, an attorney can help you overcome any difficulties so that you are presented in the best light.

You want to be sure that you bring all appropriate documents with you to your hearing, whether it be receipts, photographs, witnesses, or otherwise. Your goal is to prove your claim against the other party, so it's advised to have as much evidence as you can.

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Be Prepared in Case the Other Party Doesn't Show

If the defendant doesn't appear in small claims court Iowa, a default judgment will be awarded in your favor. That said, it's important to understand the difference it makes to have your damages clearly identified.

If the other party doesn't show up for the court date and your damages are clearly identified by the court, the clerk of court will enter a default judgment in your favor. If your damages are not clearly identified, however, it will be up to the judge to enter a default judgment.

Conversely, if the defendant does show up for the hearing and you are awarded the victory, they have 60 days to file a motion to set aside a default judgment. This request might be for a good cause, including surprise, inadvertence, mistake, unavoidable casualty, or excusable neglect.

You Can Appeal If You're Unhappy with the Judgment

If you are unhappy with the outcome of your small claims case, you have the right to appeal. There are a couple of ways to go about this. One, you can tell the judge immediately following the conclusion of your hearing. Or two, you can file a notice of appeal within 21 days.

Keep in mind that you'll have to pay the clerk of court the docket fee within those 21 days, as well. You should also be aware that you will not get the same judge for your appeal. If a judicial magistrate rendered the original judgment, a district court judge or associate would hear your appeal.

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