Court filing fees in California are not always required. The most common reason that a person filing at the Superior Courts in California would not have to pay a fee would be if they prepare and file a current fee waiver (FW-001) and it is granted and the court Judge signs or stamps an Order on Fee Waiver (FW-003).
While the Superior Courts in California have not increased their filing fees in the last few years, around 2011-2012 there were as many as 3 filing fee increases that brought the most common filing fees for most court filings to $435 in 56 of California’s Counties and $450 in Riverside and San Francisco Counties. For those of us in the industry we are used to seeing incremental increases to court filing fees every so often, but for those who have never interacted with the court system or had to file a case, $435.00 can seem like a lot for what appears to be a clerk spending a few minutes stamping some documents.
The reality is that those filing fees actually fund most of the Superior Courts operations. Larger counties such as San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside and more can have up to 15 separate court locations handling all types of different cases. Each court can have dozens to hundreds of court staff moving cases along. So aside from payroll, overhead such as utilities, and more, you can quickly see that the cost to keep the lights on at the court can be high.
The good news about the first filing fee, often referred to as a “First Appearance Fee”, is that in most cases it could be the only fee you pay to process your case start to finish. An example would be a divorce with an agreement of both parties. The court will initiate the case with the filing fee, and if both parties can sign an agreement, the Judge will sign the final divorce judgment making orders all for the single fee. Some cases that could require additional fees would be a divorce case that is contested and requires hearings and or mediations. Aside from the filing fee, the court can also charge a hearing and court reporter and even mediation fees for each and every appearance needed in a courtroom.
As mentioned above, a fee waiver can help those who qualify to avoid having to pay any fees at all in their case. When filing a petition or first filing on a case the court will either require a filing fee, or a fee waiver request. Petitioners, or their document preparation service, can prepare the fee waiver documents in the Petitioner thinks that they qualify.
When the fee waiver is filed, the court staff will do one of two things. The first option is the court clerk could either approve or deny on the spot. This will depend on the information on the form provided. The second possibility is they may need to submit the fee waiver for further review. This could be because the information was unclear, or that the qualifying factors were too close to decide on the spot. In situations like this the clerks may forward to the Judge for a final decision. After determination the court will mail their decision back to the petitioner. If the fee waiver was granted no further action required, but if the court denies it, commonly the filing fee must be paid within 10 days to keep the case open.
For cases where third party costs were incurred it is important to pay the filing fee with the court to avoid the case dismissal. Fees for process serving, newspaper publications and more are typically linked to case numbers, so if a case is dismissed, all those fees have to be paid again on a new case.
If you’re about to initiate a case in California, look at the qualifying factors for a fee waiver. You may be eligible and complete the fee waiver process could save you hundreds of dollars.
Transcript: Hello everyone, this is Joel here at Just Document Preparation and today I wanna talk to you about court filing fees in the local superior county courts in California. Okay, so in California, in the superior courts, which are in each of the 58 counties, these are gonna be the courts that handle most of the issues that the common residents would need to have handled. This would be family law, this is civil, small claims, evictions, probates, things of these natures. So in every court there is filing fees. Initially to open a case up, we are going to have what they call a first appearance fee. This is a filing fee but it is the fee that opens your case up. In most of the counties in California that first appearance fee is $435, with the exception of Riverside County, San Francisco, $450.
Aside from these first appearance fees, there’s gonna be additional fees that would come into play for filing additional documents, copies, setting up hearings, court investigators, court reporters, things of these nature. So, initially, your first appearance fee is going to open your case up and, for example, in family law, if you’re setting up a hearing for custody or visitation, you may also pay what’s known as a hearing fee and a court reporter fee, things of that nature. If you’ve already paid your first appearance fee, the case has been going on, and, for example, again in a family law case, maybe a year later, you’re going back to court to have a hearing to adjust custody, you won’t pay that first appearance fee but you will pay whatever the current hearing fee, and if applicable, court reporter fee. If you ever need to go back and order copies, it could be a dollar a page, if you need certified, $25.
So in California and each of the counties, there is a fee schedule and it will itemize what the current fee is for both the first appearance fee, as well as hearings, copies, investigations, court reports, things of these natures. So it’s always good to check the current fee schedule. You know what you’re going to be paying for the service or the event that you’re going to be scheduling or the particular documents that you’re gonna be filing.
It’s important to note that respondents in all of these cases are also subject to pay these court filing fees. So, for example, a divorce, a first appearance fee to open the case up, $450 in Riverside, once the respondent is served, if they want to file a response, they will also pay a first appearance fee because they will be coming into the case as a party. So for a response, they would pay $450 as well. There’s a few exceptions to responses where there are no fees. These would be responses sometimes to hearings in family law, as well as certain civil cases. There may not be a filing fee. So you always wanna check so that you know what you’re going to be financially responsible for.
As a last note, there is in all of the superior courts what’s known as a request for a fee waiver. If you are considered low-income, if you’re on government assistance, or in a situation where your household income and expenses don’t allow you to pay the fee, you can fill out a series of documents to request that the court give you a fee waiver. If you meet the qualifications, or if the court decides that you’re in financial need, they can grant an order on the fee waiver which would then allow you to proceed with filing, setting up hearings, whatever you need to do, getting copies, and there would be no fee to the court. So that is available and if you think that you may qualify, you should explore the options to get your fees waived on your court case.
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