Washington

Filing Fee Waiver

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Information

Introduction

Washington state courts General Rule 34 (GR 34) establishes who is eligible for a waiver of the filing fee to begin your civil case and other, mandatory charges. 

What is special about Rule 34?

  • Before Rule 34 was created in 2010, each court was free to come up with its own criteria for waiver of the filing fee.  There was no statewide uniformity.  There was also a lot of confusion.  Now the same rule will apply to courts statewide.

  • Some courts used to charge you a small fee to even file a fee waiver request.  That is no longer allowed.

  • Different courts made different decisions on which fees and costs would be waived.  Under GR 34, ALL mandatory fees and costs must be waived.

  • Different courts used to have different definitions of who could receive a waiver.  The rule changes that. ALL courts must use its definition of eligibility.

What is a filing fee? 

Most people must pay a filing fee ranging from $36 to $280 to begin a family law case. The amount of the fee depends upon the type of case and the county. (The filing fee for modifications in some counties is $36.  The fee for filing a dissolution action in some counties is $200.00.)

If you cannot pay the filing fee or paying it would be hard for you, you can ask the court to waive (not make you pay) the filing fee by filing a motion.

You mentioned other fees involved in a court case. Which of those can I get waived? 

You can ask to waive other fees that are "a condition precedent to securing access to judicial relief."  Those fees include, but are not limited to:

  • Family court facilitator surcharge

  • Judicial Trust Account surcharge

  • Domestic violence prevention surcharges

  • Mandatory family law orientation class fee

  • Any fee to have a required Family Law Facilitator review your final papers before presentation

  • Any ex parte presentation fee

    The court must waive any fee that is required.  The state Supreme Court in Jafar v. Webb recently confirmed this.

Fees that are probably NOT waivable are fees for optional services, including, but not limited to:

  • Deposition fees

  • Cost of photocopies

  • Cost of mediation

  • Guardian ad Litem (GAL) fees

How does the rule define who is eligible for the fee waiver?

You are eligible if you get the following assistance:

  • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)

  • HEN (Housing and Essential Needs)

  • SSI

  • Federal poverty-related veteran's benefits

  • Food Stamps

Even if you do not get any of the above assistance, you are still eligible for a fee waiver if your income is at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelineguidelines. (The 2013 guidelines are at http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/13poverty.cfm#guidelines.)

Even if your household income is more than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, you are still eligible for the fee waiver if you have large recurring basic living expenses[1] that keep you from being able to pay the filing fee and other required charges.

Even if none of the above describes you, you may still want to file an IFP if there are other compelling circumstances in your case. Talk to a lawyer.

What forms will I need?

Our packet Filing a Motion for Waiver of Your Filing Fee has forms and instructions.  That packet is good for all civil law cases except habeas corpus petitions.  Domestic violence protection order petitions are free.  They do not require a fee waiver.

How do I file a Motion for a Fee Waiver?

If you want to have your fees waived right away, you will need to go to the courthouse.  Once you finish filling out your forms, contact your Superior Court clerk or your facilitator (if your county has one) to find out how to get your papers to a judge for review and signing. 

If you do not need the fee waiver immediately, mail it to the court clerk.  Include a self-addressed stamped envelope so they can return a copy to you.

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems.

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:10 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. CLEAR works with a language line to provide interpreters as needed at no cost to callers. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, please call 1-888-201-1014 using your preferred TTY or Video relay service.

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, which may be useful when calling from a pay phone, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). 211 works with a language line to provide free interpreters as needed. Deaf and hearing-impaired callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to get a free relay operator, who will then connect you with 211. You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website: www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

 

Footnote:

1. "Basic living costs" means the average monthly amount spent by the defendant for reasonable payments toward living costs, such as shelter, food, utilities, health care, transportation, clothing, loan payments, support payments, and court-imposed obligations. RCW 10.101.010(4)(d).

 

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This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is current as of May 2013.

© 2013 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial use only.)