The Cost of Simply Going to Court

It’s not cheap filing a civil case in California, the nation’s largest court system.

For the past five years, fees for probate, family law matters and civil cases have steadily increased.

A few have doubled.

One batch of increases that took effect in 2009 created a revenue stream to pay debt service on bonds for new courthouse construction.

The state raked off more than $310 million – nearly all the fund’s annual revenue – to help close this year’s budget gap. But the fees still stay in place.

Last year, fees were increased again, this time temporarily to create enough revenue so courts would no longer close one day each month because of budget constraints.

A look at some of the increases:

A  plaintiff seeking up to $5,000 in damages paid $165 to file in 2008, $176 in 2009 and now pays $181. The person being sued pays the same amount. The maximum damages that can be sought in small claims court is $7,500.

Filing fees for cases where the damages sought are $25,000 or more were $320 to file and now are $395.

Similarly, probate filing fees have increased from $320 to $395.

A petition for birth, death or marriage records has jumped from $180 to $225. Eight years ago, it was $6.

Family law filings have also climbed to $395 during the same period.

Petitions by lawyers from outside the state asking to serve as counsel jumped from $250 to $500 in a year.

Motions for summary judgment more than doubled from $200 to $500.

The most recent series of fee increases imposes a three-year moratorium on additional increases while the temporary fee hikes remain in effect.

However, the courts are grappling with a $350 million cut in state support this year which adds greater financial pressure and boosts the chance that once the temporary increases expire, new permanent ones will be enacted.



Filed under: Budget and Economy

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