After you send the defendant your complaint by mail, the defendant has 30 days to send their written “answer” back to you and the court.
If they do not answer the complaint in 30 days, the next step is to call the local sheriff's department in the county where the defendant lives or works or has their place of business. Ask the sheriff’s department to try to serve the defendant in person.
You will pay a fee to the sheriff. The cost depends on how many miles the sheriff drives and how many tries the sheriff makes before finding and serving the defendant. In 2021, the cost of sheriff service of a lawsuit ranged from about $50 to $100. The sheriff may ask for a deposit to cover the fee. If you pay a sheriff to serve the defendant and then win your case, the court will add the cost of service to the amount the defendant has to pay you.
Note: If you submitted the Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs in Step 2 and the court approved it, you do not have to pay the sheriff yourself. Give the sheriff a copy of the order granting the fee waiver application. Call the court clerk to confirm that the court will pay for service.
After being served by sheriff, the defendant has 21 days to send their answer back to you and the court.
If the defendant does not answer in time, you can ask for a “default judgment,” which means that you win your case without a hearing. Use the court's Motion for Default Judgment form.
If the defendant sends back an answer to the lawsuit and agrees that they owe you the money, you will win your case without a hearing.
If the defendant sends back an answer and disagrees, you will have a hearing.
In their answer, the defendant may also include “counterclaims” — reasons that the defendant thinks you owe them money.
The Vermont Judiciary website includes more details about the small claims process on its website. See the Small Claims section of the Civil Division page. You can also ask the court clerk about forms, fees and the process.