SmartLaw: Attorney and Lawyer Referral Service. Divorce, bankruptcy, criminal, accident, business
The Los Angeles County Bar Association Lawyer Referral and Information Service, the largest and oldest such service in the United States, has hundreds of pre-screened, qualified and insured lawyers in the Los Angeles area who can help you with your legal issues. Contact us now and our courteous, professionally trained staff will help you connect you with the right lawyer. The LRIS is a nonprofit public service of LACBA.

#148 Can't afford court costs?

 (mp3 file)

You are not denied the right to use the courts, simply because you cannot afford court fees and costs. If you cannot pay these costs, you may still sue and defend yourself in civil actions including divorces. Anyone can apply to the court to proceed "in forma pauperis." although that phrase means "in the form of a pauper," you do not have to be completely destitute or without funds to use this procedure.

Ask the county clerk at the courthouse for the forms called "the application and order for waiver of court fees and costs". The application form is only one page on which you check the boxes. By filling it out, you show your financial situation. If the court doubts you are telling the truth about your finances, it can hold a hearing. However, this is not usually needed. Fill the form out and return it to the county clerk. If you cannot afford the required fees, the court will let you go ahead in the law suit without paying the court costs, or if your income permits, the court may order you to pay court fees and costs in monthly installments.

Fees that can be waived include: filing fees; jury fees; expert witness fees; and marshal's office fees for serving summons. In some cases, you can also have fees waived in the appeals court. If you are not sure, ask the clerk of the court.

What has been said so far applies to civil suits. If you are charged with a crime, the government pays all court costs. If you cannot pay an attorney, you will be provided with an attorney to represent you at no cost to you, in most criminal cases.

If you don't have the money to pay fees now, but could pay over a period of time, you may still proceed in forma pauperis.

If you have already paid some fees, and then do not have enough money to pay the rest, you can still apply for waiver of the later fees. The fact that you had enough money in the past, does not affect your right to waiver court fees and costs in the future.

Even though you may begin your civil suit without paying court costs, you may have to pay court costs before the court action becomes final. For example, in a divorce or dissolution action, you may file for your divorce without paying court costs, but court costs may have to be paid before your divorce becomes final.

The county clerk's office will give you a one-page instruction sheet, to go along with the application form you fill out. The information sheet states that if you are receiving certain types of government financial assistance, you may not have to pay court costs or fees. These include SSI, or Supplemental Security Income; Cal Works; the Food Stamp Program; and County Relief, General Relief, or General Assistance, sometimes called GA.

You may also qualify for waiver of court fees and costs if your income is below certain levels, even if you are not a welfare recipient.

Or even if your income is above those levels, you may qualify for a waiver of court fees and costs, if the court finds that your income is not enough to pay for your family's common necessities of life, plus court fees and costs.

Back to Top