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Wisconsin Small Claims Courts

Wisconsin's District Courts handle small claims cases, which are civil disputes where the plaintiff seeks a money judgment of less than $10,000. Some exceptions to that limit apply. The small claims courts follow informal court rules, allowing many parties to file or defend against a small claims case without hiring an attorney.

The following links provide self-help resources and additional information about Wisconsin's small claims courts:

This article provides an in-depth explanation of Wisconsin's small claims court process. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

Wisconsin Small Claims Court Explained

Any adult, business, or corporation may file a small claims case in the Wisconsin District Courts. The person or entity that files a civil lawsuit is the plaintiff. The plaintiff may sue any adult, business, or corporation that lives or does business in Wisconsin. The person or entity the plaintiff sues is the defendant.

The informality of Wisconsin's small claims courts allows many parties to represent themselves in their small claims case. However, the parties may hire attorneys if they wish.

What Claims Can the Small Claims Court Hear?

Wisconsin small claims courts have limited jurisdiction, meaning they can only hear certain types of claims. As noted above, if the plaintiff seeks a money judgment, their claims cannot exceed $10,000. However, the following exceptions to the $10,000 limit apply:

  • If the plaintiff files an eviction case in the small claims court, the $10,000 jurisdictional limit does not apply.
  • If the claim involves a tort or personal injury, the claim cannot exceed $5,000.
  • If the claim revolves around the repossession of personal property that was part of a consumer credit transaction, the amount financed cannot exceed $25,000.

The small claims courts can hear the following types of claims, among others:

The small claims court cannot hear the following types of cases:

  • Criminal law
  • Cases where the plaintiff requests the defendant to do (or stop doing) something (e.g., finish installing windows in the plaintiff's house)
  • Most claims seeking a money judgment that exceeds $10,000

If you have questions about whether you can file your case in the small claims court, contact a civil litigation attorney near you.

How To File a Small Claim Case

A plaintiff begins their Wisconsin small claims case by filing a Summons and Complaint in an appropriate small claims court. The Summons and Complaint provides the following information:

  • The names and addresses of each party to the lawsuit
  • The claim the plaintiff brings (e.g., personal injury, a claim for money, etc.)
  • A brief description of the plaintiff's claim

The plaintiff may also have to file an Affidavit of Non-Military Service. This affidavit states that, to the plaintiff's knowledge, the defendant is not currently a military member.

It is essential that the plaintiff correctly identifies the defendant(s) they are suing. If they incorrectly name the defendant(s), the court cannot award a judgment in the plaintiff's favor. Consult this chart for more specific information. The information contained is extra helpful if you are suing a business or corporation.

The plaintiff may attach any relevant documents to the Complaint, such as copies of a contract or medical bills.

The court will charge the plaintiff a filing fee when they file their case. You may ask the court to waive the filing fee if you cannot afford it. Ask the Clerk of Court about filing an Affidavit of Indigency to waive the fee. If you win your case, the court may award you your fees and other court costs.

The Clerk of Courts can provide more information about filing a small claims case. However, the Clerk and other court staff cannot provide legal advice.

Where and When To File Your Small Claims Case

The plaintiff must file their small claims case in a court with jurisdiction over the defendant. Failing to file a claim in the correct court will result in delays and extra expense for the plaintiff.

In general, the plaintiff must file their case in the small claims court in the county where the defendant lives. Other appropriate venues may include the following, depending on the claim the plaintiff files:

  • Evictions: Where the defendant lives or where the property is located
  • Return of Earnest Money: Where the defendant lives, where the real estate is located, or where you signed the contract.
  • Money judgments: Where the defendant lives or where the cause of action arose

State law may allow you to file your case in a different venue than those listed above. Read page four of the Basic Guide to Wisconsin Small Claims Actions for more information about where to file a small claims case.

Plaintiffs must file their civil claim within its statute of limitations. State law sets each civil action's statute of limitations, and they vary between claims. Failing to file your claim within its statute of limitations will bar the court from hearing the case. Read FindLaw's Wisconsin Civil Statute of Limitations Laws article for more information.

After Filing the Lawsuit: Serving the Defendant

After filing their lawsuit, the plaintiff must serve certain documents on the defendant. This process, known as the service of process, notifies the defendant that the plaintiff has sued them. Failing to serve all defendants the proper way will prevent the court from hearing the case.

The specific service procedures differ based on the county in which the plaintiff files their case and the type of claim they file. Ask the Clerk of Courts for more information about how to serve the defendants.

A plaintiff may serve the defendant using one of the following methods:

  • They may pay the Clerk of Court a service fee, and the court will serve the defendant with the court forms.
  • They may contact the sheriff's office and pay them a service fee to serve the defendant personally.
  • They may hire a private process server and pay them to serve the defendant.

Some courts require plaintiffs to contact the sheriff's office, while others require the court to serve the defendant. Ask the Clerk about how to serve the defendant.

If you fail to serve the defendant within 90 days of filing your small claims case, the court may dismiss your case. If you serve the defendant but they do not have enough time to prepare for the small claims hearing, the court may postpone the case to a later date.

Once you serve the defendant, you must file a Proof of Service form with the Clerk. Check with the Clerk about filing deadlines you may need to meet.

Responding to a Small Claims Lawsuit

The Summons and Complaint informs the defendant of the following:

  • The identification of the person suing them
  • The relief sought (e.g., a money judgment)
  • How they must respond to the lawsuit (e.g., appear in person or file a written Answer)
  • Deadlines to respond to the lawsuit (look for a return date)

If a defendant agrees with the plaintiff's claims, they may contact the plaintiff or their attorney to discuss resolving the case.

If the defendant disagrees with the plaintiff's claims, they must respond to the lawsuit. The county may require them to respond to the case in person at the courthouse or file a written Answer. The Summons and Complaint should provide this information. If you have questions, contact the Clerk of Court.

Regardless of whether the defendant must respond in person or writing, they must state why they disagree with the plaintiff's claims. They may also present defenses to the plaintiff's claims.

If the defendant does not answer the Summons and Complaint, the court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. This means the plaintiff will win the case, and the defendant must pay the claim.

If a defendant has civil claims against the plaintiff, they may also file a counterclaim. They can use the Answer and Counterclaim form and a Notice of Counterclaim form, available both online or at the courthouse. They must file the counterclaim in the same courthouse where the plaintiff filed their claim. They must then serve the plaintiff with notice of the counterclaim.

If the counterclaim exceeds the small claims court's jurisdictional limits, the court may transfer the case to a regular civil court. You may want to hire a civil litigation attorney if the court transfers the case to civil court.

Before the Small Claims Court Trial

The parties may settle their dispute at any time before the scheduled trial date. If the parties settle their case, they must notify the court clerk. The parties may need to prepare a written settlement agreement.

Either party may request a jury trial instead of a bench trial. If the plaintiff wants a jury trial, they must indicate as such when they file their case. The defendant must request a jury trial within 15 days of receiving notice of the case. 

In some counties, a circuit court commissioner assists with small claims matters. In those counties, the parties must demand a jury trial when they file a demand for a trial.

The court may schedule a pretrial conference to discuss the case. At the conference, the judge may inquire as to whether the parties have tried to settle their case. The judge may also ask if any parties need accommodations for the trial.

All parties must appear at their scheduled court date. The court will dismiss the plaintiff's case if they do not appear. The court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor if the defendant does not appear.

If a party knows they cannot attend the scheduled trial, they may request the court to continue the trial to a later date. Contact the Clerk of Courts for information about continuing a trial.

While preparing for their small claims court trial, the parties may gather relevant evidence to introduce at trial. For example, in a case involving an alleged breach of contract, the parties may want to bring copies of the relevant contract to court. If you have evidence on a computer or cellphone, you may want to print it out or save it in some other method that you can submit to the court.

Parties may also secure witnesses to testify at the trial. If a party is unsure whether a witness will appear at the trial, they may request the court to issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order compelling someone to attend the trial. It may also require someone to produce specific documents at the trial.

The Small Claims Trial

Unless the parties request a jury trial, a judge or court commissioner will preside over the small claims court trial. The formal rules of evidence do not apply in a small claims trial. Generally, the judge will only exclude evidence irrelevant to the trial, although other exceptions may apply.

The plaintiff will present their case first. They have the burden of proof, which in small claims court is "by the greater weight of the credible evidence." The plaintiff may present the facts they believe tend to prove the defendant is liable for the plaintiff's claim. They may also introduce evidence, such as contracts, medical records, or financial documents.

Once the plaintiff rests their case, the judge or commissioner may ask them questions. The defendant then has an opportunity to cross-examine the plaintiff. Once the defendant finishes asking the plaintiff questions, the plaintiff may ask witnesses to testify. If a party calls a witness to testify, the opposing party can cross-examine them.

Once the plaintiff rests their case, the defendant will present their defenses and evidence in the same manner as the plaintiff. If the defendant filed a counterclaim, they have the burden of proof regarding it.

Once the defendant rests their case, the plaintiff can present arguments or evidence that tends to rebut the defendant's claims.

After the trial, the judge or commissioner will decide the case. They will decide who wins the case, who loses, and who owes whom money and fees, including limited attorney fees if an attorney appears. They may issue their judgment at the end of the trial or at a later date. All parties will receive a copy of the small claims judgment.


Either party may appeal the small claims court's judgment. If a judge decides your case, you must file an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. For more information about filing an appeal, read this guide to appellate procedure.

If a commissioner decides your case, you may request a new trial. If the commissioner announces their decision in the small claims case at the end of the trial, you have 10 days to request a new trial. If they issued a written decision after the trial, you have 15 days from the judgment's date to file a demand for trial.

If you plan to file an appeal, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you. Unlike the small claims court, the Court of Appeals follows formal court rules, procedures, and rules of evidence. An attorney can provide helpful legal advice as you prepare your appeal.

Satisfying a Judgment

Following the small claims court proceeding, the party owed money is the judgment creditor. The party that owes money is the judgment debtor. The court will not collect money for the judgment creditor. The judgment creditor is responsible for collecting the money owed.

The parties may discuss how the debtor will pay the creditor. Once the debtor pays the creditor, the creditor must file a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the court. If the plaintiff does not file the Satisfaction of Judgment within seven days of satisfaction, the court may award damages to the debtor.

The debtor must file a Financial Disclosure Statement within 15 days of the judgment's issuance. If they do not file it, the creditor may file a Motion and Request for Hearing on Contempt form.

The exact procedures for satisfying a judgment differ based on the type of claim the plaintiff filed and local rules. A creditor may ask the court for assistance if the debtor cannot or does not satisfy the judgment. The methods available often include the following:

  • Contact a debt collector and assign the debt to them. They will charge a fee to collect the judgment for the creditor.
  • File an earnings garnishment, which allows them to garnish the debtor's wages until the debtor satisfies the judgment.
  • File a non-earnings garnishment, which allows them to garnish the debtor's bank accounts.
  • Docket the judgment and then obtain a Writ of Execution. The Writ allows the sheriff to seize specific property from the debtor and sell it at auction. The creditor can use the sale's proceeds to enforce the judgment.
  • Obtain a Writ of Replevin, allowing them to recover personal property to which the creditor is legally entitled.

Depending on your claim and county, you may have other methods available to you. Contact the Clerk of Court for more information. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you for help in satisfying a judgment.

Contact an Attorney

Wisconsin designed its small claims courts to allow many parties to proceed without hiring an attorney. However, small claims cases may involve difficult questions of law or fact. Although the rules of procedure and evidence are relaxed, you still need to ensure you properly file and serve various court forms. 

Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney for help in your small claims case.

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