Completing and submitting small claims forms is a requirement for both plaintiffs and defendants when a lawsuit is filed. Jurisdictions vary on the forms required as well as the associated fees, but there are basic forms that many court systems use. The names for forms often vary, but in general these are a Plaintiff’s Claims, Defendant’s Claims, Proof of Service, Authorization to Appear, Judgment, and Motion to Set Aside Default and Court Order. Some forms are filled out prior to the commencement of the case, some are filed once the court opens the case, and others are filed after a judgment is entered. A small claims attorney may prepare each form on behalf of a client, but court systems often make the forms straightforward so that pro se litigants can fill them out on their own.
Plaintiff’s Claims and Defendant’s Claims are the two most popular small claims forms. The Plaintiff's Claims is the complaint filed by the plaintiff and is used to initiate the case. The plaintiff has to list the legal basis of the lawsuit, why the defendant is liable, and why damages are due. Many jurisdictions do not require the plaintiff to name a specific monetary amount for damages, but it often cannot exceed what’s allowable in small claims court. The Defendant’s Claim is the brief answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, and a separate form is often required if the defendant wants to countersue the plaintiff.
Proof of Service forms are the small claims forms that are necessary to prove that the defendant was served with the Plaintiff’s Claim. The court case cannot often proceed unless there’s proof of service, because if the defendant fails to appear he may lose the case by default. Some defendants may not be able to appear, or if a company is sued, a representative has to appear. The Authorization to Appear form is often used by persons who want to appear on behalf of someone else or an entity. For example, if a defendant is imprisoned, a relative or spouse would submit the Authorization to Appear form to the court clerk.
The judge fills out a Judgment form, which states his decision in the case, whether in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant, and the damages awarded if applicable. One of the small claims forms that a defendant can use if she is unable to appear in court and a judgment is entered against her is the Motion to Set Aside Default and Court Order. In the form, the defendant asks the court to rescind the judgment and asks for a new trial.