You must pay fees to start a court case, to file a motion, and sometimes to have a judgment entered in a case. If you can’t afford to pay the fees, you can ask the court to waive them.
Qualifying for a Fee Waiver
If you are unable to pay filing fees, you can ask the court to waive them using a Fee Waiver Request form. Only individuals can request and receive a fee waiver, not organizations. If the person who needs the waiver is under 18 or can’t sign because of a disability, someone who has personal knowledge of the facts must sign it.
Your request for a fee waiver will be nonpublic. If the clerk issues a waiver or a judge enters an order granting or denying your request, it will also be nonpublic.
The clerk of the court must automatically approve your fee waiver if any of these are true:
- You receive means-tested public assistance (see examples below);
- You are represented by a legal services program that receives funding from the Legal Services Corporation or the Michigan State Bar Foundation; or
- You are represented by a law school clinic based on having low income.
Public assistance is means-tested if it is based on having low income. This includes the following types of assistance:
- Food Assistance Program through the State of Michigan (also known as FAP or SNAP)
- Medicaid (including Healthy Michigan, CHIP, and ESO)
- Family Independence Program through the State of Michigan (also known as FIP or TANF)
- Women, Infants, and Children benefits (WIC)
- Supplemental Security Income through the federal government (SSI)
- Other types of public assistance based on having low income
If you do not fit into one of the three categories above, a judge will review your Fee Waiver Request. The judge must waive your fees if you show that your gross household income is under 125% of the federal poverty level. If your gross household income is over 125% of the federal poverty level, but you show that paying fees would be a financial hardship for you, the judge must also waive your fees.
Requesting a Fee Waiver
Use the Do-It-Yourself Fee Waiver tool to prepare a Fee Waiver Request. After you complete the form, sign it in the space provided. Make a copy for your records. If your court case is a domestic relations case (examples: divorce, custody, etc.), make another copy of the completed form for the Friend of the Court. If you are at the court when you sign the form, you can ask the clerk to make copies for you. There may be a cost to make copies.
Courts must accept Fee Waiver Requests through e-filing or e-mail. To find out if your court has e-filing for your case type, look at the E-Filing Courts in Michigan page on the Michigan One Court of Justice website. If the court does not accept e-filing for your type of case, contact your court clerk's office or visit their website to find out what e-mail address you should send your Fee Waiver Request to. Vist the Courts & Agencies page on Michigan Legal Help to get contact information for your court.
If you are filing your papers in person at the court, take the Fee Waiver Request to the clerk along with any legal papers you want to file. The clerk may approve your fee waiver at that time, or the fee waiver will go to a judge for review. If it goes to a judge, the judge will have three business days to decide the request.
If your court has e-filing, the process may be different. Contact the court clerk's office to find out if you need to bring the Fee Waiver Request in person or e-file it with your other papers.
If Your Request Is Denied
If your Fee Waiver Request is reviewed by a judge, you will receive an order telling you whether the fee waiver is granted or denied. If the waiver was denied, you can either pay the filing fee within 14 days or request a review hearing. To request a hearing, file a Request for Review of Denied Fee Waiver within 14 days from the date the judge signed the order.
The review hearing will take place within 14 days from when you file your Request for Review of Denied Fee Waiver. On the date scheduled for the hearing, bring documents that support the information you provided in your Fee Waiver Request. The judge may ask you questions. Answer them clearly and directly.
If your Fee Waiver Request is denied and you do not either pay the fee or request a review within 14 days, your filing will be rejected.
If you get a fee waiver, you won't have to pay certain court fees required by law. Some examples are:
Filing fees to start a case, including the filing fee for divorces, custody cases, small claims, and other civil cases
Petition for Adoption
Petition for Name Change
Petition for Emancipation
Petition for Guardianship
Appeal to Circuit Court
Jury Demand Fee
Judgment and Order Entry Fee in a case in which the custody, parenting time, or support of minor children is determined
You must let the court know if your circumstances change and the reason for your fee waiver no longer exists. For example, if the reason your fees were waived is that you receive food assistance, but your income later increases and you no longer qualify for those benefits, tell the judge what has happened.
The judge may require you to pay fees if they find the reason for the waiver no longer exists.
Fee Waivers in Family Law Cases
If you qualify to have your fees waived in a family law case, such as a divorce, the court can order your spouse to pay court fees as part of a final order or judgment.