- Katie Binkley
What if I Can't Pay for My Court Filing Fees?
Filing Fees for a Small Claims Case
When you open a case in small claims court, it costs a fee. This is called the filing fee. The specific amount of your fee may vary depending on how many small claims lawsuits you’ve filed recently. If you cannot afford your filing fee, you can request financial assistance.
For example, in the State of California, a party would file a Request to Waive Court Fees (FW-001) form. When making your request, you must demonstrate to the court that you cannot afford the fee. Therefore, the FW-001 form asks for your source of income and your expenses.
How to Complete an FW-001
Enter your name and contact information. Be sure to use the same name (spelling, inclusion of middle name, etc.) and mailing address that you provided on your SC-100 form.
If you’re employed, list the name and address of your employer.
Check the box for “Superior Court,” as this is the correct courthouse for small claims cases.
There are three ways to get your filing fees waived in California:
If you are a recipient of an income-based government assistance program, you may automatically qualify for a fee waiver. Read through the list of applicable programs and check the box accordingly, as not every government assistance program qualifies.
If your monthly household income falls below a threshold amount. Check the chart on the form for the specific dollar amount per family size.
If you don’t fall into either of the above categories, you can still qualify for a fee waiver if you don’t have the extra income after accounting for all your expenses. To prove this, the court will have you complete the second page of the fee waiver request. This page asks you to detail all income sources and monthly expenses made, as well as any property owned like a home or vehicles.
Be prepared to show proof of income
Your local courthouse may require you to show proof of income. If you’re employed, you can bring your most recent pay stubs. If you are not employed but receiving income monthly, attach some type of evidence of those payments (statement of disability compensation, retirement disbursement, educational financial aid, etc.).
Other helpful tips:
Include the FW-003 form: A judge reviews each request to waive court fees. Since the FW-001 form is just a request, the court asks you to include a second form where the judge can write his or her order. This form is the Order on Court Fee Waiver (FW-003 form).
Bring the fee waiver or money when you file your forms: In order to process your court documents, you must include either the filing fee or a Request to Waive Court Fees.
Ask for your filing fees in your damages assessment: If you win your case, the defendant should pay for the filing fee you incurred to get your money back. When calculating damages owed to you, be sure to add your filing fee.
What if my fee waiver gets denied?
Every fee waiver request is reviewed by a judge. If the court finds you can afford the fee (comparing your income to your expenses), your fee waiver will be denied and your fee will be due. The court may need more information from you or might set a hearing to get more information in order to make the decision. You may have more options depending on your jurisdiction. For example, in California a party with a denied fee waiver can request a review hearing by filing the form FW-006.
If the court asks you to provide more information or request a hearing, there are deadlines in order to do so. Be sure to read all the documents provided to you by the court so you don’t miss a deadline. Also make sure you have provided the most up to date contact information for you so you don’t miss the opportunity.
If you don’t pay your filing fee, the court will void your case and cancel your trial.
NEED HELP WITH YOUR JUSTICE JOURNEY?
The quest for justice is never easy, particularly when it comes to getting your money back. However, thanks to advances in technology, it has become easier. Quest for Justice’s first app, JusticeDirect, is the only app of its kind designed to support people without lawyers to resolve their disputes and get their money back, both in and out of court. The first step to getting money back is through a letter demanding payment from the other party JusticeDirect offers customizable demand letters for free. If the letter demanding payment does not work, then the next step is taking them to court. JusticeDirect* will guide users every step of the way through the small claims court process by helping them:
Understand the legal process;
Evaluate the pros and cons that come with taking someone to court;
Generate small claims court forms; and,
Avoid common mistakes when filing your forms and serving notice on the other side.
*Currently, JusticeDirect can only help litigants sue in California’s small claims court.