Time Limits for Serving a Claim

The plaintiff in a small claims case is responsible for making sure that the defendant receives copies of the lawsuit before the hearing date. Every state has its own rule about the deadline by which the defendant must be served; some states require as few as five days before the hearing, whereas others require as many as 30 days. Check with your small claims court clerk for the rules in your state.

If the defendant is served fewer than the required number of days before the trial date, he or she can either go ahead with the trial anyway or request a postponement. If you're the defendant and it's impossible for you to show up in person to ask for a delay, call the court clerk. Point out that you weren't served in the proper time and that you want the case postponed. The clerk should see to it that a default judgment is not entered against you. But just to be sure, get the clerk's name and take thorough notes about your conversation

To count the days to see whether service has been accomplished in the correct time, do not count the day the service is made, but do count the day of the court appearance. Also count weekends and holidays, unless the last day falls on a weekend or holiday. If so, the period extends to the next day that is not a holiday.

EXAMPLE: Jack serves Julie on July 12 in Los Angeles, California, with court papers listing a July 22 court date. California's rules require Jack to serve Julie with the court papers at least 15 days before the hearing. July 13 is a Sunday. To figure out the days, you do not count July 12, the day of service, but you do count July 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22, for a total of ten days. Ten days is not enough time before the hearing date. Julie can either request a postponement because she wasn't served according to the rules, or she can choose to go ahead with the hearing.

If you are unable to serve the defendant within the proper time, simply ask the court clerk for a new court date and try again.

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