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How Much Does It Cost To Go To Court?


When parties find that all options in resolving a dispute have been exhausted, including written requests, negotiation, and mediation, they then must decide whether they wish to expend the time and money necessary to seek a resolution in court.  While anyone can read various rules, laws, and regulations online, these cannot be physically enforced without obtaining a court order. The same is true whether you seek monetary damages, or simply want to stop a party from doing something.

The judge has the final say in resolving a dispute, with few exceptions, such as appeals.  Generally, a private citizen cannot force another person to act, or recover money from them, without a court order. Further, attorneys are subject to the same laws, and cannot single-handedly force the resolution of a dispute; they must seek court intervention to obtain an enforceable judgment. If you are currently in a dispute and unable to reach a resolution, consider the following costs before filing your case:

I. ATTORNEY FEES:  The first step when considering whether to file a case in court is to contact an attorney.  There are many experienced attorneys in the Southern California area who work in all variety of different legal areas.  You can search for attorneys through the California Bar Association’s Website or by searching attorney listings with your local bar association, such as the Los Angeles Bar Association.  Many attorneys will speak with a potential client for free, also known as a “free consultation.”  The attorney will generally discuss both your case and the applicable law.  The attorney will let you know if and how their office can offer legal assistance for your case.

Depending on the legal matter, attorneys will offer clients different ways to pay for legal services. Attorneys may offer a flat-rate package, charge hourly rates, ask for a retainer, or take a case on contingency, meaning the attorney will receive a percentage of any court-ordered damages, if successful.  Attorney fees can vary, depending on the attorney’s years of experience, specialization, and area of practice. Some attorneys may offer to take a particular case “pro bono,” meaning without fees, but generally only under certain extreme circumstances. If you need assistance filing a case in court, but cannot afford an attorney, contact your local court house or law library to enquire about local filing assistance.

II. FILING FEES: Apart from hiring an attorney, anyone considering whether to file a case in court should understand the fee systems.  These fees vary by region and can change from year to year. The most recently updated fee schedule can be found online, at the California Courts website.  Depending on the amount of monetary damages requested, case complexity, and case type, fees can vary from $30 to $1000, for the initial filing alone.

However, you should not refrain from filing a case simply because of a large fee. First, be sure to check with the attorney you have selected, if applicable, as filing fees may (or may not) be included in their flat-rate services. You may also qualify for a fee waiver, if your monthly income is lower than the maximums listed in the table below.

Family Size Family Income Family Size Family Income Family Size Family Income If more than 6 people at home, add $435.42 for each extra person.
1 $1,256.26 3 $2,127.09 5 $2,997.92
2 $1,691.67 4 $2,562.51 6 $3,433.3

III. EXTRANEOUS FEES: In addition to the fees discussed above, there are several other associated fees, which many people fail to consider.  These include copying/printing/mailing charges, service of process and notary expenses, e-filing fees for online submissions, and service charges for physical submissions at the courthouse.

When you file a lawsuit, each form you file must be served upon the opposing party to put them on notice that a case has been filed and they are a party to it. You can reduce the related costs by: e-filing (when available), printing your own forms and documents, filing court documents at the courthouse yourself, and having an uninvolved friend or family member over the age of 18 serve your documents on the opposing party.

Most people do not fully consider the cost of a court case until communication with the opposing party has deteriorated to a deadlock. When considering whether to pursue resolution of a dispute, the most important decision is the amount of time, effort and money you are willing to expend. Consulting with an attorney and the California Courts website, as early as possible, will allow you to develop a strategy for resolution to ensure that your case remains economical. Generally disputes can be resolved through attorney intervention or mediation, without the need to go to court.  However, in order to prevent a situation from worsening, it is important to consult with an attorney, and begin working toward a resolution, early in the process.