GETTING A DIVORCE WITHOUT PAYING THE FILING FEE
Even for the pro se filer, the court divorce fees alone can cost several hundred dollars. In some jurisdictions, the filing fee is the same in all divorce courts in the state; in other states the fee varies by county. Across the U.S. filing fees range a low of $50 in Mississippi to a high of $435 in California.
Being unable to pay the filing fee is not an obstacle to divorce. Courts waive filing fees for persons who can't afford to pay the filing fee.
A filing spouse who cannot afford the filing fee can file a written request asking the judge to waive it. This is called an "Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis" and also known as a fee waiver application. This is a written request asking the court to waive the filing fee. The filing spouse provides information about his or her employment, including all income and expenses as well as any assets he or she currently has. If the application is granted, he or she can file divorce paperwork without paying the required filing fees and other costs related costs. 3StepDivorceTM provides the Fee Waiver Application inside each account just in case it is an option.
Requesting a Filing Fee Waiver
The paperwork to request a filing fee waiver varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally includes a petition/motion to waive the filing fee and an order for the judge granting or denying the request. Some state fee waiver documents require only very basic income and expense information. Other states require more detailed financial information in a supporting affidavit or financial statement, which the judge reviews in deciding the request.
Normally, indigent filers enter "0" for dollar amounts that do not apply and "none" for property they do not have. Some jurisdictions ask the fair market value for an item of property, which means you would put down an estimate of the amount you would get for the item should you see it; this would not be the replacement value of the item. The paperwork should be completed accurately, and should be signed in front of a notary, if that is required.
What Qualifies for a Fee Waiver
The court will normally grant a fee waiver request if the filing spouse is eligible for some sort of government assistance, food stamps, AFDC, or TANF, or if the total household income is 125% or less than the current poverty level.
If the filing spouse does not qualify for government assistance, or his or her household income is not 125% or less than the current poverty level, the filer must show the court that paying the filing fee would result in a substantial hardship because of his or her financial situation. Depending on the state and judge, the court may want to see pay stubs and other proof of income.
The Fee Waiver is Granted
The fee waiver is filed when the initial documents are filed with the courts. The judge reviews the fee waiver and then decides whether to grant it. If the fee waiver is granted, the divorce case proceeds.
In some states, the filer must advise the court if his or her financial circumstances improve while the divorce is pending, Improved finances mean the filer can pay the fee. In California, for example, a filer granted a waiver must tell the court within five days if he or she becomes able to pay. Florida filers who are determined to be indigent and unable to pay make a one-time $25 administrative fee. In some states the fee is paid at the conclusion of the case (fee deferral) or the other party may be ordered to pay the fees; but this is not a guarantee.
The Judge Denies the Request
The filing spouse can file a motion requesting that the judge review it if a request for a fee waiver is denied; there are a limited number of days to see a review of the denial. In Arizona and Indiana, for example, a filing spouse whose fee waiver is denied must either pay the fees within 20 days or request a hearing on the denial.
In some states, the fee waiver includes a request to waive other fees associated with a divorce case, such as the parenting education class fees and/or sheriff's fees for service of process, if applicable. Not all states include these other fees.
Waiver vs. Deferral
Some jurisdictions permit a deferral of filing fees, but a fee waiver is different from a fee deferral. When a fee is waived, the filing spouse is not asked to pay the filing fee unless, of course, his or her financial situation improves and he or she lives in a state that requires that the court be informed of changes in a financial situation.
With a fee deferral, the fee is not necessarily waived. Fee deferral permits immediate divorce and payment of the filing fee later, although in some cases the court may not require payment at all. In Maryland, an indigent party first files a Request for Waiver of Prepaid Costs, which is a fee deferral request. If it is granted, he or she files for divorce, but before the divorce is finalized, the party must file a Request for a Final Waiver of Open Costs for a permanent waiver of the fee.
The Non-Filing Spouse Receives a Copy of the Fee Waiver Request
In many states, the non-filing spouse must be properly served with a copy of the fee waiver documents. The fee waiver papers are simply included in the other divorce paperwork.