If you can’t afford court filing fees, you may be able to benefit from a determination of indigent status.
Due to the very nature of our business, we help many Florida families that have a limited income. Many are surprised to learn that Florida law directs the Clerk of the Court to waive the cost of filing their case if certain criteria are met. The rules governing the determination of civil indigent status is set forth in Florida Statute 57.082. This page is only about requesting a waiver of filing fees from the clerk when you file a family law case. We cannot assist you with free services.
How do I qualify?
The clerk of court considers several factors when deciding whether to approve your application. The first is your net income. Net income is the total of your salary and wages, minus authorized deductions required by law, including court-ordered support payments.
Besides my wages, what other net income must I report?
You must declare all of your other income, including, but not limited to, social security benefits, union funds, veterans’ benefits, workers’ compensation, other regular support from absent family members, public or private employee pensions, reemployment assistance or unemployment compensation, dividends, interest, rent, trusts, and gifts.
Is my net income low enough to qualify for a waiver of filing fees?
Refer to the below chart. Your income must be at or below the amount listed in the row next to the size of your family. These numbers are based on 200% of the 2020 federal poverty guidelines prescribed for the size of the household of the applicant by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Are there other factors the clerk considers besides my net income?
Besides your net income, the clerk of court will look at your assets and how much money you have. As a rule, if you own or have interest in property (other than your homestead) or have money or other assets in excess of $2500, you might not qualify. For example, if you are unemployed but have $5000 in your savings account, you’re probably not going to qualify.
The equity that you have in your vehicle is also a factor. We can help you estimate the fair market value of your vehicles using publicly available online tools.
- If you own your car outright, and it’s fair market value is $5000 or less, you’re probably okay;
- If the fair market value of your vehicle is $20,000, and you still owe $17,000 on it, you’re probably okay, because your “equity” in the vehicle is only $3000;
- If you have equity in a second vehicle, motorcycle, boat, jet ski, etc., that bumps your total equity to over $5000, you probably won’t qualify;
- If you own one vehicle with $5500 in equity, you probably won’t qualify.
What is my spouse is a co-petitioner on our adoption case?
If you are filing a relative, stepparent or adult adoption with your spouse, both of you must both submit separate applications in order for the clerk of court to determine your eligibility for a filing fee waiver.
Can I find out in advance if my application for civil indegent status will be approved?
Unfortunately, no. Your application is filed along with your initial filing, and the clerk makes the determination at that time. You have the right to appeal the clerk’s decision if you wish.
Are their other fees and costs that are waived if my application is approved?
Yes and no. If your Florida Application for Civil Indigent Status if approved, you won’t have to pay $10 each for a summons. If you are serving a party in Florida, the county sheriff will waive the $40 fee they charge for service of process. There are a few Florida sheriffs that do not serve non-enforceable papers such as family law petitions, etc. and make you seek out a private process server. Your wavier will not be honored by them.
Out of State Service of Process
If we are helping you serve parties out of state, we have to call the sheriff in the county where the party is being served and ask them if they will honor your Florida indigent status. Some will, and some won’t. We won’t know until we call. We do all of this leg work for you at no additional charge.
Service by Publication
If you have to place a legal notice in a newspaper, there is a good chance that the clerk of court will simply hang the “Notice of Action” on the court’s bulletin boards for 4-weeks instead of making you pay for the publication.
If you case goes to family mediation, your approved indigent status will probably cover the cost, unless you opt for private mediation.