Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about the legal definition and meaning of “filed” and “filing” in a court of law.

Plus, get the facts about how you can file court documents, how much the fees are, what’s considered public record, and more!

What Is a Court Filing?

A court filing in the U.S. is the process of submission of documents, online (electronically) or offline (physical form), to initiate legal action or supplement an existing one.

The filing process marks an essential step in the legal system and must be done promptly to support a court case. Missing deadlines or filing documents after the statute of limitations may lead to detrimental effects, even dismissal of a legal suit.

Documents can be filed for civil, criminal, probate, or family matter cases and are applicable to a new, ongoing, or even to have a closed case reopened.

However, it’s important to note that the parties who file may differ slightly in these lawsuits.

Concerning U.S. Courts, while individuals and companies can file civil lawsuits at district courts, the government initiates a criminal proceeding, usually through the U.S. attorney’s office (federal) or state district attorney’s office in coordination with a law enforcement agency.

Who Can File Documents In Court?

Generally, anyone above the age of 18 is eligible to file documents in court on their own behalf (Pro se).

However, judges can agree to limit the rights of legally incapacitated people over 18 years old to lose the right to sue or defend in a lawsuit, which also limits their ability to file in court.

Corporations and partnerships must have a lawyer file for them, as they cannot litigate Pro se in court (represent themselves).

File Legal Definition and Meaning

What Is the Purpose of Filing In Court?

Court filing can serve multiple purposes. Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons people file in court:

  • Initiating a new lawsuit: Filing a petition or pleading in court by the plaintiff is one of the first steps of a legal case.
  • Contributing to an existing lawsuit: Providing supplementary documents, such as the submission of evidence, testimony, and more. Formally submitting these documents to the supporting or complementary documents to strengthen the chances of success by the plaintiff or defendant.
  • Filing motions: A formal request made to the court to initiate or carry out a particular action. Filing motion serves various purposes, such as case dismissal, bail granting, etc.
  • Adhering to deadlines and requirements within the constructs of a legal case: Filing documents are proof of parties involved in the case adhering to or deferring any deadlines, for instance, the statute of limitations. If a plaintiff initiates a legal case after the statute of limitations period, the case will be dismissed.

What Is the Process of Filing a Document In Court?

There are different methods people can use to file documents in court. Some of the ways you can file a court document include:

In-Person Filing

Individuals or representing agencies submit the documents in person to the court. Most courts have a set of rules and requisites for filing, and we recommend you go through them in detail. There are a few general rules to keep in mind when you are filing in person.

  • Make sure to carry at least two copies along with the original document. While the court retains the original, the copies usually will be stamped “Filed” and returned to you for record-keeping purposes by the court clerk.
  • Ensure the case number is mentioned clearly on all paperwork due for filing. If you are the plaintiff initiating a lawsuit, this is not applicable during the petition. You can always seek the assistance of the court clerk if there are any doubts or confusion.

In addition, local filing rules may apply based on state laws and jurisdiction.

Please research these details before filing or consider speaking with an attorney to help you with understand this part of your legal matter. Doing so can save you much time and aggravation.

Filing By Mail

If you cannot submit it in person, you may be able to use the postal service. While this can be more convenient, it may take longer to process in some instances.

Thus, this method may not be the best for time-sensitive lawsuits, such as restraining orders and evictions with strict deadlines.

So, make sure you have sufficient time before you choose to file by mail.

It’s also important to note that courts have guidelines about the proper protocol to use when mailing in a filing, such as making extra copies of the paper documents.


Over the past few decades, E-filing has become increasingly popular and even mandatory in some jurisdictions in the U.S.

Dedicated online portals or platforms run by electronic filing service providers (EFSP) are set up for parties or their representatives to file court documents.

This process drastically reduces paperwork and allows all documents to be easily organized online.

Clerk’s Office Drop Boxes

Physical containers are stationed inside courthouse entrances and allow people to submit documents in person outside business hours by dropping them into the official box.

Drop boxes in court buildings for filings are equipped with safety measures to protect the contents within and come with specific submission instructions.

Other methods to file include emails and faxes.

What Types of Documents Can Be Filed In a Court Case?

Many different types of documents can be submitted as court case filings. All share the commonality of having a role to play in the lawsuit.

These submitted documents can include evidence to strengthen a case in favor of a particular party (plaintiff or defendant) or can be a formal request.

Some of the most common documents filed in court cases include:

  • Complaint or Petition
  • Expert testimony and Affidavits
  • Motions
  • Pleadings
  • Dockets, Memoranda, Briefs
  • Orders and Judgments
  • Discovery Documents
  • Transcripts
  • Notices of Hearing or Trial
  • Settlement agreements

Is Electronic Filing Permitted In Courts?

Yes, both attorney and non-attorney filers (i.e., Pro se, interested parties, creditors, court reporters, trustees) can submit documents online using the federal courts’ Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system.

The CM/ECF system has a central sign-on functionality that allows users to use the internet to submit pleadings, motions, and petitions for a federal-level case. In order to get started, the filer must register and create a Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) account.

To view the documents on the system, an individual needs a PACER account and special access issued by a court.

PACER charges users $0.10 per page with a maximum of $3.00 per document viewed.

Are Court Filings Public Record?

Yes, most court filings are accessible to the general public. However, some records could be sealed and kept confidential due to security or privacy reasons and, therefore, have restricted access.

Court cases involving minors, such as juvenile dependency cases (where a child is removed from their parents) or juvenile delinquency (where a child is accused of committing a crime), are some instances where court records could be sealed.

Similarly, the visibility and ease of accessing some types of court records may also vary from one jurisdiction to another and from one state law to another.

For instance, some counties don’t make the files of some specific types of family law cases, such as divorce lawsuits, available to be viewed online.

Instead, the records are only available by in-person request at the county clerk’s office.

What Steps Can Be Taken If There Are Errors or Omissions In a Filed Document?

If the document you filed in court turns out to have an error or if you have missed adding any relevant information or supplying the correct document, it is crucial to address it without delay. The implications of errors and omissions can be severe.

  • Review the document carefully and create a list of any errors or missing data. Look into spellings, names, dates, addresses, and more. Minor mistakes or typos may be overlooked, provided the information is accurate and correct.
  • Verify the rules of the court where the documents were filed. There may be slight errors depending on individual state laws and jurisdiction.
  • Gather all required documents needed for the amendment.
  • If a fee is involved with amending documents, you will also need to pay that.
  • If the error is significant, you may need approval from the court to refile. If required, file a motion for correction with the court.
    Obtain the court order and notify all parties involved of the change and correction.

Situations like these demonstrate the value of hiring an attorney, as their expertise can help you avoid making errors or omissions throughout the litigation process.

What Are the Fees For Filing In Court?

When you file documents in court, you will be charged an associated filing fee. Typically, the most significant fee involved is the “first appearance” fee that is applicable to both plaintiff and defendant, usually at the beginning.

According to U.S. Courts, the current filing fee for civil lawsuits is $350 in accordance with Title 28, U.S. Code, Section 1914.

Since only the government and not individuals are allowed to file criminal charges against an alleged criminal, the cost of criminal case filings is less applicable upfront.

For bankruptcy lawsuits, multiple filing and administrative fees will apply. Depending on the type of bankruptcy and applicable procedures, the total fee amount will vary on a case-by-case basis.

Currently, the highest fee amount for any single bankruptcy filing is $1,167.

What If You Can’t Afford the Fees To File?

If you cannot afford to pay the filing fees, you can apply for in forma pauperis in order to have a judge grant the waiver of the normal costs for filing fees.

Additionally, you may be able to submit a fee waiver request if you are currently receiving a public benefits program like welfare, SSI, or food stamps.

Are Court Filing Fees Refundable?

No, in most situations, court filing fees are non-refundable. Regardless of the case’s outcome, the filing fees are not returned since they are considered an expense associated with processing and managing court cases.

However, there are select scenarios where a court may consider refunding specific statutory costs such as administrative or filing fees. Let’s take a look at some of them.

  • Fee Waiver: If a party is unable to afford the cost of their legal case, they can apply for a fee waiver. If the court grants the request, then the party may be exempt from paying the filing fees.
  • Case Dismissal or Withdrawal: Although highly subjective, a court may consider refunding the fees if the case is withdrawn or dismissed early on, and the amount of work the court had to perform is limited.
  • Incorrect Payment Made: If the filer pays an excess amount accidentally, they may be eligible to get the amount back via a partial refund.

Are Court Filing Fees Tax Deductible?

No, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), court filing fees are generally not tax deductible. The IRS has specific rules regarding what expenses can be itemized deductions, and court filing fees for personal reasons are typically not among the deductible expenses.

However, there are a select few case types where fees can be tax deductible, which include:

  • Whistleblower claims
  • Illegal discrimination lawsuits

As always, we recommend you check state laws, individual court rules, and tax laws or consult with an attorney or account to understand if the fees from your case are eligible to be deducted from your tax return.

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: December 14, 2023 7:26pm CST