Carlo Esqueda

Clerk of Circuit Court and Register in Probate

Dane County Courthouse
Room 1000
215 S Hamilton St.
Madison, WI 53703
Map to the Courthouse

Phone: (608) 266-4311
Fax: (608) 267-8859
TTY: Call Wisconsin Relay 711

7:45 AM to 4:30 PM
Closed all County holidays

Customers should arrive in time to complete all business by 4:30 PM

All filings and requests through the mail require a self addressed stamped envelope to return incorrect and/or processed paperwork and receipts to you. Please ensure all required documents are properly notarized before filing with the court.

Frequently Asked Questions about Small Claims Court


Questions on this page

Related documents

Information Sheet on Collection of Small Claims Judgments
Posted January 9, 2006
Information Sheet on Stipulated Dismissals and Post-Judgment Actions
Posted May 14, 2007
Dane County Landlord / Tenant Legal Resource Guide
Information Sheet on Construction Liens
Posted May 14, 2007

Your question not listed here?

These two resources have more information about Small Claims Court or contact the Clerk of Courts at the location above:

NOTE: All submissions, after the initial filing, sent to the court regarding your case must be copied to all other interested parties and/or their attorney.

Description: Q:How much can I sue for in Small Claims Court?

The money limit is $10,000.  Torts/Personal Injury cases are limited to $5,000.  Any amounts over these limits must be filed as a large claims civil case.  They cannot be broken down as multiple small claims cases.

Description: Q:What's a replevin?

An action for the recovery of an item that hasn't been paid for or been wrongfully taken.

Description: Q:Where do I get forms to file a lawsuit? Where do I file the case?

To initiate a Small Claims case, you must file a Summons and Complaint (SC-500) and an Affidavit of Non-Military Service (GF-175). One Affidavit of Non-Military Service should be filed for each named defendant in your suit. You can purchase these forms from the Legal Resource Center in room L1007 of the courthouse, or you can download them from the Dane County Clerk of Courts Small Claims Court Forms page. If the case involves a consumer transaction, it should be filed with the Clerk of Courts Office in the county where the customer lives, or where the purchase was made, or where the collateral is located. For other types of cases, it should be filed with the Clerk of Court in the county where the claim arose, or where the property is located, or where the defendant lives or does substantial business.


Description: Q:Do I have to hire an attorney to help me in Small Claims Court?

Representation by an attorney is not required, it is your decision if you wish to retain one.  Please keep in mind that court staff is prohibited from giving legal advice.

Description: Q:How much does it cost to file a case in Small Claims Court?

All small claims court case types require a filing fee of $94.50.

  Description: Q:How is the defendant served once the case is filed?

All case types must be personally served.  In a money or replevin case, if diligent attempts to serve the papers on the defendant(s) by Sheriff or process server fail, you may publish a form of summons in a major newspaper that is likely to be read by the defendant(s).  Eviction cases may be posted and mailed if personal service cannot be made.  Evictions cannot be published.

Description: Q:What is the Return Date on the Summons and Complaint?

The Return Date is the date of the initial appearance or the date by which the defendant needs to provide a written answer in a money action. Eviction and replevin return dates are mandatory appearances by all parties.

Description: Q:What is a Stipulated Dismissal?

A stipulated dismissal is an agreement between the parties. If the agreement is not followed, the plaintiff can file an affidavit of default wherein the judgment can be entered without notice to the defendant(s). Cases ending in a stipulated dismissal are still listed in the CCAP/WCCA database.

Description: Q:What is a default judgment?

If the defendant fails to provide a written answer "disputing the claim" by mail (or in person) a default judgment may be entered against the defendant. A notice that judgment has been entered will be sent to the parties.

Description: Q:What happens if I lose my case?

If, after a court commissioner level hearing and a trial with the judge, you lose altogether or don't get all the money or property you wanted, you may take your case to the court of appeals. The appeal fee is $195, plus a $15 record transmittal fee. You must also pay for the preparation of the transcript. Since an appeal is complicated, you may wish to seek legal advice.

Description: Q:What happens if I win my case?

If you win a money judgment, the Small Claims Court will order the party owing money under the decision to fill out a financial disclosure form and send it to you within 15 days after the judgment was filed.  If the defendant fails to give you the required financial disclosure form, you may file contempt paperwork with the court.  If the defendant doesn't pay, you may docket the judgment at the Clerk of Courts office. The docketed judgment then acts as a lien on the defendant's real estate owned in Dane County and may show up on their credit report.   One of several ways to try to enforce a judgment is by "garnishment." Garnishment is an action to withhold part of a person's wages or bank accounts to pay off the judgment. A garnishment can be filed in Small Claims Court, just as the original case was. Part of the judgment debtor's wages are exempt from garnishment.  You can also request an execution form to be served by the Sheriff to see if they can collect the money from the defendant for you.    All of the above paperwork will require either a court fee or service fee or both.

Description: Q:Can my court costs be reimbursed if I win my case?

Yes, but only some costs. You will not receive reimbursement for lost wages or transportation but you can receive reimbursement for the cost to file the case, the cost to serve the summons and petition, to subpoena witnesses, and for garnishment costs. You can also receive limited attorney fees. Please see the table in the Guide to Small Claims Court for the amount of reimbursement allowed for attorney fees.

Description: Q:What can I do about a judgment listed on my credit report?

If the judgment has been satisfied, you may file a Satisfaction of Judgment form (mandatory form GF-129) and pay a $5.00 fee to clear the judgment.

Description: Q:How do I get a money judgment for eviction?

In a nutshell:

1.   File for an eviction in Small Claims court,

2.   Win the eviction action,

3.   Re-rent the premises,

4.   File a rent and damages form with Clerk of Courts,

5.   Win a money judgment,

6.   Pay a $5 docketing fee to have the Small Claims Court put a lien on person's property

Description: Q:How do I schedule a hearing for contempt?

Complete the contempt form at the Clerk of Courts office.  After the clerk schedules the hearing with the next available judge, you will be required to make copies of the document and have the defendant(s) personally served with the paperwork. 

Description: Q:Do I need to appear at the contempt hearing?

If the debtor appears at the hearing, they will be instructed to complete the financial disclosure form. If the creditor does not appear at the hearing (or does not provide proof of service), the contempt can be dismissed. If the debtor does not file the financial disclosure statement prior to the hearing or appear at the hearing, the judge may issue a bench warrant.

Description: Q:May I reopen a judgment? How?

A party may reopen a default judgment within 12 months. You must file a motion or file a petition to reopen (no filing fee). A hearing will be set to consider the reasons for the request to reopen.

Description: Q:What's a trial de novo?

A "trial de novo" is a retrial of a case. When a Small Claims case is heard by a commissioner, the commissioner will either make an oral decision at the hearing or mail a written decision within 30 days of the hearing. The commissioner will provide instructions for appealing a court commissioner's decision to all parties. A party may demand a new trial before a Circuit Court Judge (trial de novo demand) by filing a written demand for a new trial. The written demand must be filed within 10 working days of the commissioner's oral decision, or within 15 days of a written decision. The form "Demand for Trial De Novo" is available from the Legal Resources Center or on line, if not provided by commissioner.

Description: Q:What is earnings garnishment and how does it work?

A creditor who is trying to collect an unsatisfied civil court judgment against a debtor may start a garnishment action to recover the money owed. This may include interest and other costs, which are deducted from earnings payable to the debtor. The employer, who makes payment directly to the creditor, is called the garnishee. For example, if a court finds that you (debtor) owe a former landlord (creditor) back rent, the landlord can ask the court to order your employer (garnishee) to pay part of the rent you owe directly to the landlord. There are limits to the amount that can be taken out of each paycheck. More garnishment information is in the Guide to Small Claims Court.

Description: Q:Is there assistance available in the Courthouse for help with Small Claims issues and filling out forms?

A Small Claims assistance program is available to the public every Tuesday morning from 9:00-11:00 AM in room L1022. A volunteer attorney from the Dane County Bar Association is available to assist the public with questions, forms, and procedures regarding Small Claims monetary, replevin, garnishment, and eviction actions.

Didn't find an answer to your question? Contact the Clerk of Courts at the location above or the Dane County Legal Resource Center at 266-6316.