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Which Party Pays for Small Claims Court Fees?

Nicole Madison
Updated: May 16, 2024

Small claims court procedures vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Many jurisdictions have procedures in common when it comes to small claims court fees, however. In most cases, each party to a small claims case is required to pay his own fees at the outset of the case. Once the case is decided, however, the party who loses is often responsible for paying or reimbursing the winner's court fees. If, for example, the plaintiff wins and incurred $75 US Dollars (USD) in court fees, the defendant in the case may be ordered to pay the $75 USD in addition to any other money the plaintiff won in the case.

Since the laws regarding the payment of small claims court fees may vary, a person may do well to check the laws in his jurisdiction before opening a small claims case. Many jurisdictions always award court costs to the winner of the lawsuit. This means a defendant who successfully defends himself in court and wins his case may be awarded court costs. In such a case, the plaintiff may have to reimburse the defendant for the small claims court fees on top of paying those he incurred as a plaintiff.

Some jurisdictions don't have laws that state which party will definitely have to pay court costs in a small claims court case. In some jurisdictions, a court may have some leeway with this. When awarding court costs, some judges or magistrates may be permitted to consider how a person behaved in court and prior to the court proceedings. He may also be permitted to consider the financial ability of each party when deciding who will pay these fees.

Depending on the jurisdiction in which a person files suit, there may be a range of fees to pay as part of the process. For example, many courts charge a basic fee for filing the case as well as fees for serving the court summons; some also charge fees to cover the costs of court reporting. A person may even incur fees for the copying and processing of official court documents. In most cases, small claims court fees are relatively inexpensive. Many people object to paying their own small claims court fees if they win their cases, and many jurisdictions follow this logic and require the loser to pay.

It is important to note that jurisdictions often differ not only in terms who pays court courts, but also what is allowed to be included in the total amount of court costs. In some places, a person can include the amount of legal advice he seeks in his court costs; in others, this is not allowed. Sometimes the cost of legal representation is included as well. Some courts do not allow lawyer representation in small claims court, however, so legal representation fees may not be included.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By Buster29 — On Mar 09, 2014

I was a defendant in a small claims case once, and fortunately the judge decided in my favor. The plaintiff tried to claim my dog destroyed his backyard vegetable garden, but I showed the judge a picture of my fenced yard and another neighbor testified about a stray dog that looked similar to mine. I would have been willing to pay for the damage to his garden if I had lost, but paying additional court fees felt like adding insult to injury. He was the one who was convinced my dog did the damage, so he should be the one to pay for the cost of bringing me to court.

By Phaedrus — On Mar 08, 2014

Personally, I believe the person initiating the law suit should be the one to pay the court fees up front. If the plaintiff does win the case, then the defendant would have to reimburse him after the fact. I can't see how it would be fair for a defendant to pay anything to a small claims court, considering he or she didn't volunteer to be there. The plaintiff is the party who had to decide whether or not to pursue legal action in the first place.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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