If your income is very low, you may be able to have court filing fees waived
In New Jersey, when you file a lawsuit or respond to a lawsuit that has been filed against you, you are usually required to pay a court fee. Court fees are charged when you file legal papers, such as complaints, motions, and answers. Courts can also charge for copying documents that have been filed in a case. The money collected from fees is used to operate and maintain the court system. Because you are using the court system to resolve a legal problem, you are expected to pay for part of these costs.
If you do not pay the court fee, you may not be allowed to continue with your case, and the court clerk will refuse to accept your legal papers for filing. This will delay your ability to file a lawsuit or defend against one.
Court fees can be expensive. For a complete list of fees, see RULE 1:43. Filing and Other Fees Established Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2B:1-7 (from New Jersey Courts). Fortunately, there is a Court rule (RULE 1:13. Miscellaneous Rules As To Procedure) that allows “indigents,” or low-income people, to be granted a fee waiver by the court. If a court grants a fee waiver, you will not have to pay filing or copying fees. Directive #03-17 of the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts explains how to apply for a fee waiver and what judges must consider when deciding whether to approve or deny a waiver request.
Note: If you are awarded more than $2,000 in your case, a court may require you to repay any of the fees that were waived.
How does the court determine if I can get a fee waiver?
If you have a legal matter in the New Jersey state court system—Superior Court, Appellate Division, Supreme Court, or Tax Court—you can qualify for a fee waiver if you meet both of the following conditions:
- Your household income is not more than 150% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The FPL for a family of four in 2018 is $25,100. See U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines (from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The guidelines are adjusted each year.
- You do not have more than $2,500 in liquid or “spendable” assets. A spendable asset is money that you can use to pay for things you want and need, such as a bank account balance. It does not include things you own that you would have to sell in order to get money from their sale, such as a house or a car. Money you may owe is not factored into your waiver application.
How can I apply for a fee waiver?
You can file for a fee waiver before or during a lawsuit in the Superior Court (trial level) or the Tax Court. If you have a lawyer or a power of attorney, that person can also apply on your behalf in Superior or Tax Court. Note: Requests for fee waivers in the Appellate Division or Supreme Court can only be filed by the person seeking the waiver. No one else can file on your behalf.
To apply for a fee waiver, you must complete and submit two court forms. See the Fee Waiver Packet, How to File for a Fee Waiver–All Courts (from NJ Courts), which includes the forms and instructions for completing them. A judge will use the information that you provide on Form A: Certification/Petition/Application in Support of a Fee Waiver to determine whether you qualify for a fee waiver.
You must also complete part of Form B: Order Waiving Filing Fees. This is a proposed court order. The judge will review your application and decide whether to grant or deny it based on the information and documentation you provide. The judge will then sign the Order (Form B) either granting or denying the application.
You may fill out both forms digitally or print blank copies to fill out by hand. If you are not able to print the forms, you can pick them up at the court house.
Completing Form A
Form A asks for information such as your name, contact information, name of case, and party (plaintiff or defendant). To prove you qualify for a fee waiver, you will also need to provide the following documentation to prove your income and assets:
- Six months of bank statements. If you do not have a bank account, write that statement on a separate piece of paper, sign and date it, and attach it to Form A along with all of the other documents you are giving to the court.
- Two months of documentation of all income you receive. If you receive a salary, you should provide two months of pay stubs. If you receive welfare, public assistance, unemployment, Social Security, child support, or alimony, you must attach two months of documentation for each of these income sources. Form A contains a complete list of required information.
The court may ask you for additional income information such as federal and state tax returns. These documents are not listed on Form A, but if the court requests them, you will have to provide them.
There is also certain information that you should not include on Form A. Since Form A is a public document, it can be available to the public on request. Other than your name and contact information, you should not put any personal identifying information on it, such as your full Social Security number, driver’s license number, insurance policy number, car license plate number, or active financial/bank accounts or credit card numbers. There is a note on the top of Form A to remind you what not to include on that form.
It is important that you answer all questions and requests for information truthfully. If you intentionally give false information, you can be punished by the court. Your signature on Form A certifies that the documents and information you give to the court are correct and truthful.
Also, if the judge who is reviewing your application determines that the legal papers you filed are frivolous or malicious or an abuse of process, your fee waiver application can be denied.
Fee waiver requests are frequently denied because information is incomplete or missing, so it is very important to carefully complete Form A and follow the directions on it. Form A tells you exactly how many copies of each document you need to provide based on your personal situation.
Completing Form B
Form B has blank spaces for you to fill in. You have to provide basic information such as your name, address, telephone number, email address, the name of the case, the county where it was filed, and the docket number if one has been assigned at the top of the page. You must also write your name on the line that states “… application of _______” and then check the appropriate box as to whether you are plaintiff, appellant, defendant, or appellee. If you do not know which box to select, ask the court clerk.
Filing the Request for a Fee Waiver
Courts require that filing fees be submitted at the same time the legal papers in the case are filed (such as the complaint, answer, application, motion, appeal, petition, or other documents). If you submit your legal papers without paying the filing fee, the court clerk will mark that they have been “received, but not filed.” This means that the court has not officially accepted your legal papers, which will affect whether they are considered in your case.
For this reason, your request for a fee waiver (both completed forms and all supporting documentation) must be attached to the legal papers you submit to the Clerk’s office of the appropriate court. For most matters, this will be in the Civil or Family Division of Superior Court, but it could also be in the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, or Tax Court. If you are appealing a decision made by an administrative agency, such as the Office of Administrative Law, the fee waiver application is filed directly with Appellate Division Clerk.
Because it is sometimes confusing where to file the fee waiver application, you should call the Superior Court Clerk’s office for guidance at (609) 421-6100. New Jersey Court System (from NJ Courts) contains a list of courthouse locations and Clerks’ offices.
What happens next?
After you submit your request, a judge will review the information and documentation you provided and decide whether to grant the fee waiver. If it is granted, the Court Clerk will file your legal papers, which means that the court has accepted them as part of your case. If the fee waiver request is denied by the judge, you will have to pay the required filing fee. You have 10 days after the denial to make payment. You may ask for reconsideration, pointing out why you think the fee waiver should have been approved, but there is no rule or legal process for appealing a judge’s decision to deny a fee waiver application. If you are denied and are unable to pay, you should ask the Clerk’s office what to do.
Note: There is one exception if you have requested a fee waiver to file an appeal with the Appellate Division. If you are appealing a Superior Court (trial) decision to the Appellate Division, and the trial court denies the fee waiver, you are then permitted to file the fee waiver application with the Clerk of the Appellate Division. You must do so within 20 days of the denial.
Can I get a fee waiver if I have a lawyer?
The court can grant you a fee waiver even if you are represented by a lawyer. If the lawyer is in private practice and you are paying for the lawyer’s services, you must still qualify as being indigent by having an income of no more that 150% of the federal poverty level and not having more than $2,500 in spendable assets. If you think you qualify for a fee waiver, ask your lawyer to file a fee waiver application for you or to help you do so.
One part of the fee waiver policy is particularly important to low-income people who are represented by Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ) or a regional Legal Services program. Court rule R.1:13-2 exempts Legal Services clients from having to pay filing and copying fees or filing for a fee waiver. Clients who are represented by other public interest or legal service organizations, law school clinical programs, or pro bono programs that have been certified are also exempt from paying fees and filing of a fee waiver request.
This special rule requires that you are represented in your legal matter by an attorney of a Legal Services program, a certified legal service provider, or a pro bono attorney who has accepted your case from such a program or provider. It is not enough that you have received legal advice (in person or by telephone) or spoken with an attorney at a legal clinic and are now representing yourself (pro se). See Pro Bono Online System -- Approved Organization (from NJ Courts) to find a list of certified programs.
For more information, visit the New Jersey Court website or apply for help from LSNJLAWSM, Legal Services of New Jersey's statewide, toll-free legal hotline, by applying online or calling 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529).