How to Get an Indigent Divorce Though the Clerk of Courts
By Timothy Mucciante
Every court has filing fees that must be paid at the initiation or filing of any action, including a divorce action. In addition to the actual filing fees, there may be fees for such items as a jury demand or interim support or custody motions. These fees can be substantial, and most states have provisions for waiving some or all of these fees for persons determined to be indigent.
Contact the clerk’s office where you plan to file the divorce action and obtain the necessary indigent fee application. Many court clerk offices also have this information online. Some states have state-wide criteria for waiving fees for the indigent, together with a form that is used by all the courts in that state. These forms should also be available online, along with general information about the application process.
Gather all the information that documents your income. Many states have very broad definitions of income and include salary or wages, Social Security income, worker's compensation benefits, pension and retirement benefits, interest income, financial support from family or friends, and any other income from any source. Salary or wage income is generally considered to be net income --- the amount of compensation left after deducting taxes and any garnishments.
Collect information on all your assets. Assets include cash, savings accounts, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, equity in real estate, and equity in a motor vehicle or other tangible property. The amount of your assets will be pivotal in the clerk’s determination and you will most likely be signing the indigent application under oath so it is very important to be accurate.
Get all information on your debts together. Debts include car loans, student loans, mortgages, credit cards, past due utility bills and garnishments. Make sure that you have the due dates and amounts for payments on these obligations. This financial disclosure can be extremely important to the court clerk in determining eligibility for waving fees based on being indigent so make sure they are as detailed as possible.
Complete the required indigent fee form thoroughly, making sure to respond to every question or request for information. Make sure that you have all the relevant documents that prove your income, liabilities and assets. If requested, attach copies of these documents to the indigent application. Do not send the original documents.
Wait for the clerk’s office to make a decision. If the clerk makes a determination that you are not indigent and therefore can pay the filing fee, the clerk's office will notify you. If you disagree with the clerk's decision, you may then ask for a review of that decision by a judge. If the clerk determines that you are indigent, your petition or complaint for divorce will be accepted and filed by the clerk of the court.
Some cities or counties have legal aid offices that can be contacted for detailed information on the process for getting divorce filing fees waived if you are indigent.
Timothy Mucciante has worked as a lawyer and business consultant, and has been writing professionally since 1981. His writing has appeared in the "Michigan Bar Journal" and many corporate publications. Mucciante holds both a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Michigan State University and a Juris Doctor from Michigan State University/Detroit College of Law.