Prepare for your debt trial

If you're defending yourself in a debt case, you can prepare for your trial by:

  • Watching a debt trial at your court, if possible
  • Gathering evidence and responding to requests from the other side (discovery)
  • Going to your case management conferences to work out any procedural issues with the judge
  • Reviewing the Plaintiff's Declaration in Lieu of Live Testimony if they send one to you
  • Preparing what you plan to say and ask at trial

How to prepare for your trial

Preparing for a trial can take months. There's a lot to do - going to court dates, gathering evidence, responding to requests from the other side, and planning what you'll do and say in the trial.

illustration of paper forms in a folder

Get organized. As you prepare for trial, start to create a "Trial Notebook." You can use this at trial when you need to get documents quickly.

Review the basic steps you'll want to take to prepare

It can be very helpful to watch a debt trial as your prepare for your own

Illustration of a courtroom during a trial

Trials are open to the public.  You may even be able to watch a trial with the same judge you’ll have at your trial.

You can often find a listing of trials on your court’s website. Or, a court clerk may be able to tell you. Some courts now have remote trials. This means the trials are on videoconference.

Watching a trial will answer common questions:

  • Where do I sit? 

  • How many people will be in the courtroom? 

  • How formal will the trial be?  

  • How do I present evidence and respond to the other side's case?

  • What do I need to do to get the Judge to consider my documents? 

This will help you prepare and make better decisions about whether it makes sense for you to go to trial.

To prepare for your trial, you'll need to gather information you can use as evidence to make your case or to figure out what information the other side plans to use to make their case. To do this, you'll use a legal process called discovery.

Use discovery to get the information you need

Discovery allows you to get information and evidence from the other side in your case. You use discovery to find out: 

  • What the other side plans to say about an issue in your case 

  • What facts or witnesses support their side 

  • What facts or witnesses support your side 

  • What information or documents the other side has - that you don't have access to - that could be used as evidence

Learn how to request information through discovery

Consider getting help with discovery. 

Discovery is complicated and often requires knowledge of evidence rules and other legal strategies. If you are representing yourself in your case, you can consider hiring a lawyer to help you with just this part of the case. 

The other side may make discovery requests of you

The other side may also conduct discovery to get information from you. If this happens you'll be served with papers describing the information the other side is asking for.

Respond to a request for discovery

To get a sense of the timing for your trial, the court may check in with you and the other side

  • About the status of your case
  • To see how close you are to being ready to go to trial

The court uses something called case management conferences and case management statements to do this. In a case management conference you resolve issues with a procedure (like discovery) and schedules (when to have a trial). You do not argue your case at the conference.

Each court has its own way of scheduling and organizing case management conferences. Most will inform you in writing about your scheduled conference.

  • Some courts schedule them when the case is first filed, others schedule them later
  • Some courts only have case management conferences in unlimited (over $25,000) cases
  • Some courts conduct them in person, while others handle the process entirely in writing, holding a meeting only if necessary

Learn how to prepare for your case management conference

At least 30 days before trial, the Plaintiff may serve you with a Declaration in Lieu of Live Testimony

The plaintiff can use a written declaration of a witness instead of having their witness testify in person. This is called a Declaration in Lieu of Live Testimony. In debt cases, often you won't have any witnesses testify. You'll only have the witness's written statement (Declaration).

The plaintiff must serve you with the declaration at least 30 days before the trial. 

Review any Declarations you get. If you need to ask the witness any questions, you will need to make sure they can testify in person.

Learn how to review the Declaration

Write down what you plan to say and bring this to your trial

Once you get closer to your trial date, you should start to prepare what you plan to say and ask at the trial.

If you have a witness, you will also want to think about what questions the other side might ask them. 

Learn what to expect in a trial

Get familiar with the rules of evidence

illustration of a book

Get familiar with the rules of evidence. In court, everyone must follow the rules of evidence. These rules say what evidence a judge (or jury) can consider when they make a decision. 

When you prepare your questions, this can help you understand what type of information you should ask about. And what type of information the judge will likely not be able to consider.

Check your mail so you don't miss deadlines

Over the coming months, the court may send you information about court dates. If you agreed, you may get these in your email. Check your email. 

The Plaintiff will often send you requests for information (discovery). For example:

  • Requests for Admission
  • Form Interrogatories

If you get these, you need to respond to the request by a deadline. If you do not respond or miss a deadline, you could lose your case or end up owing more money. 

illustration representing a mailbox

 If you move, update your address. Let the court and Plaintiff know your new address

success alert banner:

Have a question about Debt Collection?

Look for a "Chat Now" button in the right bottom corner of your screen. If you don’t see it, disable any pop-up/ad blockers on your browser.