INTRODUCTION Filing a case in Family Court can be expensive. This is not just because of the cost of hiring an attorney, but also because of court costs and fees. Court fees are the costs you pay when you file a case or certain motions with the court.
How much a Divorce could cost to finalize depends on various factors such as the issues involved, the complexity of the case, and the co-operation of the parties. Here, we will focus on some of the fees charged in the Miami-Dade County and Broward County courts. THE INITIAL FILING IN A DIVORCE The first filing in a Divorce is called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Filing this petition initiates the case and the party who files will be required to pay the Clerk of Court a filing fee of $409. This is the most costly court fee, but if you qualify for indigent status, you can perhaps get a waiver of fees, as discussed in more detail below. FEE FOR ISSUING SUMMONS AND SERVICE OF PROCESS If you need to serve the opposing party, the Clerk of Court will charge a $10 service charge to issue a summons. Once issued, the opposing party must be served by either a licensed process server or a deputy from the sheriff’s office. The cost of serving process is not a court cost, however it is required because in Florida a party to an action cannot personally serve the other party. A process server will usually charge about $30 to $40. The sheriff’s office will typically charge $40. These estimates assume that the service is local. Also, if the opposing party files a waver and accepts service, the cost of serving process can be waved. FEE FOR FILING A MOTION THAT REOPENS A DIVORCE CASE If you have already finalized your divorce and want to modify or enforce the final judgment, the fee for filing the motion that re-opens the case will be $50. This might include modification of property division, spousal support, child support, child support or visitation, or a petition for relocation. Such a motion might be a cheaper alternative to filing an appeal, but would require the moving party to show a substantial change in their circumstances. OTHER FEES AND COSTS There may also be other court fees and cost, for example fees for mediation, or costs for photocopying or certifying public documents. For information on fees and costs not discussed here, see the Broward County Clerk and Miami-Dade County Clerk fee schedules. Check the county clerk fee schedule to make sure that the amounts mentioned here are still current. WAVERS FOR INDIGENT STATUS If you cannot afford to pay the court fees, you can petition the court to wave the filing fees by filing an Application for Determination of Indigent Status with the Clerk of Court. If you qualify, you will still have to pay a $25 administrative fee and the Clerk must enroll you in a payment plan. See Florida Statutes § 28.246 for more information on the payment plan. If the court denies your application, the court will require you to pay the filing fees. ATTORNEY’S FEES The fees we have discussed are court fees, but if you decide to hire an attorney to defend your interests, there are generally three types of attorney fee structures. First, in a domestic relations case in Florida, such as a divorce action, an attorney is not allowed to charge on a contingent basis. In other words, an attorney cannot make his or her fees depend on the outcome of your case.
Second, an attorney may charge a fixed fee. This is more likely in an uncontested divorce because the amount of work required should fall within in a predictable range. Fixed fees, however, may come to include graduated hourly fees if, for example, your case becomes more complicated because a party decides to contest your case.
Lastly, an attorney may charge on an hourly basis. How much an attorney may change depends the attorney, the complexity of the case, and various other factors. Either way, if you are going to sign an attorney-client agreement, make sure to read the fees and costs sections closely to understand how you are going to be charged for representation and what services are and are not included in those charges.