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Can’t Afford to Pay Court Fees? Ask for a Fee Waiver

May 2020

What is a fee waiver?

The court charges fees for some of its services, including filing some court papers. If you can’t afford to pay the court costs and fees, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. If the court gives you a fee waiver, you may not have to pay fees to

  • file your court forms,
  • have a marshal serve court papers on the other person in your case,
  • go to a parenting education program,
  • get certified copies of court documents, or
  • get court services such as transcripts or recordings.

Who can get a fee waiver?

You can probably get a fee waiver if

  • you do not make very much money or you have a lot of expenses; or
  • you get help from the government, such as
    • welfare (TFA or SAGA);
    • food stamps (SNAP);
    • SSI (Supplemental Security Income);
    • state supplement (AABD/Aid to the Aged, Blind and Disabled, for example).

How do I ask for a fee waiver?

You can ask the court for a fee waiver by filling out a court form and filing it with the court.

If possible, download the fee waiver form at the Judicial Branch website and fill it out using a computer. The form is a fillable PDF and it will do all of the math calculations for you. Make sure to save your work as you go.

You can also print the fee waiver application from the Judicial Branch website or get one at the courthouse and fill it out by hand.

If you have to fill out the form by hand, start with two or more blank copies of the form. You can use the extra copies to practice.

Can I get help filling out the application?

Yes. You can ask someone at the Court Service Center for help.

How do I fill out a fee waiver?

First, fill out the top of the form:

You must list the

  • name of your case (your last name vs. the last name of the other person);
  • docket number, if you have one;
  • judicial district; and
  • court address.

Tip: You can ask someone at a Court Service Center if you need help with the docket number or other information at the top of the form.

You must also list

  • your name (under “Name of applicant),
  • your address,
  • your phone number, and
  • the type of case (“Type of proceeding”).

Next, check all of the fees that you want to have waived. 

Fill out the rest of the form:

Important:You must list your monthly income and expenses.  If your income or expenses are not paid monthly, you will have to figure out the monthly average. 

If your income or expenses are: Here is how to get the average monthly amount:
Weekly: Multiply the weekly number by 52 and divide it by 12.
Bi-weekly:
Every other week – for example, you get 26 paychecks per year.
Multiply the bi-weekly number by 26 and divide it by 12.
Semi-monthly:
Twice a month – for example, you get paid twice each month on the 15th and the 30th and you get 24 paychecks per year.
Multiply the semi-monthly number by 2.
Yearly:
You get an annual salary or you pay a bill once per year.
Divide the yearly number by 12.

If a question does not apply to you, write “none” or “0.”

If you say “0” for your Total Monthly Income or Expenses, meaning you don’t have any income, use the blank lines at the bottom of page 1 to explain how you are supported. For example, you might say, “I live with my mother and she pays the bills.”

If you have income such as SSI or SSDI, some courts will want you to attach a monthly statement to your Fee Waiver application. You may want to bring a monthly statements with you when you submit the Fee Wavier application in case the clerk asks for one.

The numbers below are in the same order as the numbers on your application form.

1. Dependents

Dependents are who live with you and depend on you for food, clothing, shelter, etc. Usually that means children under age 18, a disabled or stay-at-home spouse, or elderly parents. Do not count yourself.

2. Monthly Income

If your income is not the same every month, write your average monthly income. To do that, take your income for 1 year and divide it by 12. You can find that information on your pay stub.

A. Gross monthly income (before deductions)

List your average monthly income before taxes and other deductions.

B. Net monthly income (after taxes & deductions)

List your average monthly take-home pay (your income after taxes and other deductions).

C. Other income

List the source and average monthly amount of any other income you get, including child support and alimony. Also list public assistance such as welfare, social security, or unemployment.

Total Monthly Income (B+C)

Add B and C and list that amount in the box. Do not add box A.

3. Monthly Expenses

List the average monthly amount for each expense.

A. Rent or Mortgage

List the average monthly amount.

B. Real Estate Taxes

If you own your home and you did not include your monthly taxes with your mortgage on the line above, list them here.

C. Utilities

List the average monthly amount for your electricity, gas, water, etc.

D. Food

List your average monthly costs for groceries only. Don’t list SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits if you get them.

E. Clothing

List the average monthly amount.

F. Insurance Premiums

List the average monthly amounts for your car, life, home, health, and dental insurance. Exception: Do not include home insurance here if you listed it as part of your mortgage expense above.

G. Medical/Dental

List your average monthly costs for medical and dental bills for services, equipment, copays, and prescriptions. Do not list insurance costs here.

H. Transportation

List your average monthly costs for public transportation, car repairs, gas, oil, etc. Do not list car insurance or car payments.

I. Childcare

List your average monthly costs for childcare. Include nursery school, baby-sitters, and afterschool care costs you pay so you can work.

J. Other

List your average monthly costs for other expenses you have not already listed. This may include children’s activities, school uniforms, books, lunches, diapers, laundry, haircuts, cleaning supplies, toiletries, church donations, toys, movies, etc. Also include any child support or alimony that you pay.

    Total Monthly Expenses

Add all expenses (AJ)and list that total amount in the box.

4. Assets

 

Assets (property) are things you own that you could sell for cash.
Examples: House, cars, furniture, etc.

Estimated Value: How much you think you could get if you sold that item today.

Loan Balance: How much you owe, such as a mortgage, a car, or furniture that you are still paying for.

Equity: How much money you would have left after selling it and paying off the loan.

Example: If you could sell your car for $3,000 (its estimated value), but you still owe $2,000 (loan balance), the equity would be $1,000.

A. Real Estate

List the Estimated Value, Loan Balance, and Equity for your real estate, motor vehicles, and any other personal property, such as jewelry, furniture, or appliances.

B. Motor Vehicles

C. Other Personal Property

D. Savings Account Balance

Write the total balance of all your savings accounts. If you don't have any, write "0."

E.  Checking Account Balance

Write the average monthly balance of all your checking accounts after your bills are paid. If you don't have any money left after your bills are paid, write "0."

F.  Cash

List how much cash you have.

G. Other Assets

Describe any other valuable things you own and list their total value.

  Total Assets

Add all amounts in the Equity column (AG)and list that total amount in the box.

5. Liabilities/Debts

 

Type of Debt: List every person or company you owe money to. Also include overdue items such as utility bills, tax bills, personal and student loans, credit cards, store credit cards, and medical bills you have not paid.

Amount owed: List the amount you owe on the date you fill out this application.

Monthly Payment: List your average monthly payment. If you have not made payments, write “0” on this line.

Important! Do not include payments for any item you listed above in Assets.

     Total Liabilities

Add all amounts in the Amount Owed column and list that total amount in the box.

Add all amounts in the Monthly Payment column and list that total amount in the box.

     Page 2

Do not write anything on page 2 below #6 (where you can explain if you have zero income or zero expenses). The court fills out the rest of this page.

Check your information on page 1 to make sure what you wrote is correct.

If you also have to fill out a separate Financial Affidavit for your court case, make sure your information is consistent. That is not easy to do because the Application for Waiver of Fees asks for monthly information and the Financial Affidavit asks for weekly information. You will have to make math calculation adjustments to one of the forms.

What should I do with my completed application?

  1. Take your completed application to the court clerk, along with any court papers that you listed on your application.
  2. Ask the court clerk to notarize your application (you can ask a notary or lawyer to do this, if you prefer).
  3. The clerk (or notary or lawyer) will ask you to swear that the information you gave is true, and you will then sign your application.
  4. Make a copy of the completed, signed form. Give the original to the court clerk and keep the copy for your records. You may need it later at your hearing.

What happens after I give my application to the clerk?

The courts have different processes. Ask your court clerk these questions:

  • What happens next?
  • Do you need any other papers about my income or support?
  • How long will it take the court to decide?
  • How will I find out the court’s decision?

What can the court decide?

The court can approve or deny your application.

  • If the court approves your application, you will not have to pay certain fees. The clerk can tell you which ones.
  • If the court denies your application, that means the court thinks you have enough money to pay your fees. If you do not agree with the court’s decision, ask for a hearing.

What if the court denies my application?

You can

Get Help From Legal Aid

Age 60+: Get help from legal aid.
Under age 60: Find legal help or apply online.
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