How best to defend against a small claims suit?

UPDATED: Nov 17, 2010

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How best to defend against a small claims suit?

An ex-friend filed a small claim at Manhattan court offices against me for $500. I made arrangements to make payments according to my limited budget since I am a graduate student with only my stipend (I don’t work). I paid $100 towards the debt but she claims that I owed her the total amount. I would like to know if I go to court what would be my best defense? Can I set up payments? I don’t have the resources for making the total payment.

Asked on November 17, 2010 under Bankruptcy Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

If the debt is valid--i.e. if there are good grounds for it and you don't have a defense; e.g. say you borrowed $500 from her and didn't repay it when it was due--then there really is no defense. A creditor has a right to insist on payment in full, immediately, and in this context, "creditor" means anyone who has a valid claim  against you for a sum. You can offer payments, of course, and it may well be in her interest to take them; however, at the end of the day, she doesn't  have to. She can go to court, prove her case and her claim, get a judmgent against you for the full amount still due; then if you don't pay at that time and you stll can't work out a payment agreement with her, she could try to garnish wages or bank account, put a lien on property, etc.

Offer to set up the best and most agressive payments you can. Document your attempt to settle. If you can't bring your documentation to court and lay out for judge that you're willing to pay according to a structured settlement or over time. The judge may be able to get her to agree to it; of course, if she does, it will be put in writing and if you don't meet the terms, she can immediately go back to court to enforce it.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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