One of the great advantages of small claims court is that disputes are heard quickly. This is important. Many people avoid lawyers and the regular courts primarily because they can take what seems like forever. In small claims court, you should get a court date in a relatively short time frame.
It is sometimes impossible for a plaintiff or defendant to be present on the date the court sets for the hearing. If this happens, you should contact the court immediately and ask that the case be rescheduled. Ask the clerk of the court or check your local court rules for any specific requirements for rescheduling a case. Oftentimes, you'll be required to make your request in writing and explain why you need a delay. Here's a sample of a letter requesting a postponement. Be sure to also send a copy to the other party at the same time you give the letter to the court.
Sample Letter Requesting Postponement
37 Birdwalk Boulevard
Re: Small Claims No. 374-628
I have been served with a complaint (No. 374-628) by John's Laundry, Inc. The date set for a hearing, February 15, falls on the day of my son's graduation from Nursing School in Oscaloosa, Oklahoma, which my husband and I plan to attend.
I called John's Laundry and asked to have the case delayed one week. They did not return my call.
I feel that I have a good defense to this suit. Please delay this case until any date after February 22, except March 13, which is my day for a medical checkup.
cc: John's Laundry
Before making your request to the court, you can try to contact the other party in the case to see if you can agree to a mutually acceptable time for a new court date. If you both agree to reschedule, you could give the court a joint request for postponement signed by both parties. Here's a sample (but check your local rules for any specific requirements in your jurisdiction).
Sample Joint Request for Postponement
11 South Street
Clerk of the Small Claims Court
Re: SC 4117 ( Rodriguez v. McNally)
Mr. Rodriguez and I agree to request that you postpone this case to a date after March 1, 20xx. If possible, we would prefer that it not be scheduled on March 27 or 28.
What if an emergency occurs just a few days before a scheduled hearing? The court still has the power to reschedule your case if the judge is convinced that circumstances warrant it (for example, a key witness has left town to attend a funeral). Contact the court clerk immediately, explain the problem, and ask for guidance.
What if your opponent doesn't show up? For detailed instructions on how to proceed if your opponent (whether you're the plaintiff or defendant) doesn't show up to the court hearing, see Chapter 15.