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alternatives to lawsuits

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Click on a topic to learn about how to solve your problem without going to court:

  1. Try to settle
  2. Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)
  3. Mediation
  4. Negotiate
  5. If you can't settle  
  1. Try to settle

    Try to solve your problem in a friendly way before you file your small claims court case. Ask the defendant to give you what you want. If you solve your problem without going to court you’ll save time, money and aggravation. This helps a lot if you and the defendant (called the “parties“) have a work or personal relationship.

    Can you give the person a good reason to do what you want? If they owe you money, tell them they can pay less if they pay you right away. If you owe money, offer to pay a little more than you think you owe, just to end the fight.

    If the problem goes to court and there’s a judgment against you, you’ll have to pay what you owe plus court costs and interest. And, the judgment will go on your credit record.

    If you know that you owe money but you can’t pay it all in one payment, say you’ll pay a little every month or every week. A judge may also let you make monthly or weekly payments.

    If you can’t reach an agreement on your own, you can try a type of “alternative dispute resolution” called mediation.

  2. Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)


    The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara – Small Claims Division, encourages ODR to resolve monetary disputes where all parties agree to participate voluntarily.

    What is online dispute resolution (ODR)?
    ODR is a voluntary process for resolving disputes. Disputes may be resolved between the parties or with the help of a neutral third party, called a mediator. ODR allows you and the other party to reach a mutually acceptable settlement of the case without having to appear in Court to have a judge impose a decision on you. The information you provide through your negotiation or mediation is secure and confidential; however, any agreement you come to will be made a part of the public record. The mediator will not provide legal advice, evaluate your case, or make any decision or judgment for you. However, the mediator will help you and the other party focus on reaching an agreement that is acceptable to all parties involved in the dispute. If you reach a settlement agreement, an agreement will be created and filed automatically with the Court, eliminating the necessity of you having to appear in Court for your trial.

    How do I sign up for ODR? You may participate in ODR before your Court appearance date by providing your email address to the Court at least 20 days before your scheduled hearing. When the Court receives both parties’ email addresses your case will automatically be forwarded to the ODR program. Once the plaintiff initiates the process, the defendant will have the opportunity to opt in and the ODR process can begin. Please add the ODR program email address “” to your contacts to ensure your invitation does not go to spam.

    Click here to Request Small Claims Online Dispute Resolution

    To learn more, see the Online Dispute Resolution FAQ page.

  3. Mediation

    You have the option of conducting a remote mediation (i.e., via telephone or videoconference) prior to your hearing to try to settle your case. Mediation is a confidential process in which a neutral person works with the parties to try to find a solution that works for everyone. You are not required to reach an agreement, and it is entirely up to you whether to agree to any specific terms. For more information please call (408) 828-8547  or email at

    About mediation:

    • The Court partners with highly trained, and experienced volunteer mediators to provide this free mediation opportunity.
      • Mediators are completely neutral: they are not there to decide who is right or wrong, only to help you and the others on your case reach a settlement that works for everyone.
      • Mediations are confidential: anything that is said in mediation cannot be used against you during your hearing if you do not settle your case in mediation. Any agreement you reach will not be made part of the public record, unless everyone agrees.
    Benefits of Mediation
      • If you settle, you can avoid having to come to Court for your hearing
      • Mediation allows for more, possibly better options to resolve your case than a hearing and judgment
      • If you are the plaintiff, it is much more likely that the defendant will voluntarily follow through with the terms of a settlement they agreed to than a Court order
      • Because mediation is confidential you have the opportunity to hear the other person’s side, so if you don’t settle you can be better prepared for your hearing
  4. Negotiate

    You may have to use legal procedures and spend money to enforce a judgment. Your judgment from the small claims court is legal. But sometimes, it can be hard or impossible to enforce.

    Collecting your money is one of the hardest parts of a case. The other person may not have the money, or may just refuse to pay. There are ways to enforce your judgment, but you’ll have to pay more and make an extra effort. See the Property/Money Collection page for more information.

  5. If you can't settle

    • Negative credit report: If there is a judgment against you, it stays on your credit report for up to 10 years, or more.
    • Added expenses: If you are the defendant, you may have to pay what the plaintiff asks for AND what it costs to file and collect the claim, plus interest.
    • Ruined relationships: It can be hard to keep a friendly relationship if you go to court against your neighbors, family members, or business partners.
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