Driving out costs of divorce, part 2 – low cost PA divorce

Low Cost Pennsylvania Divorce – Myth or Reality ?

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

Several people have asked me if it is possible to get divorced for under $500.00 in Pennsylvania, and without using a lawyer. Technically, it may be possible, but it may be difficult, time consuming, and you may be giving up rights that you don’t know about.

In very simple terms, if both parties agree to divorce each other and sign the required paperwork, and if there are absolutely no disagreements regarding the valuation or division of assets, division of liabilities, or disagreements of any nature regarding pretty much anything else, if neither party is seeking support of any kind (either during the divorce process or after it is over), and the parties are civil to each other and can properly draft, sign and file the proper paperwork, it is possible to get divorced in Pennsylvania for minimal costs and fees. Every Pennsylvania county sets it’s own filing  fees for divorce. Depending upon the county you file for divorce and the number of “counts” or issues in your divorce complaint, your filing fees will vary widely.

Most counties have “local rules” that parties (including attorneys) must follow when filing for divorce on behalf of their clients. Many county court websites are full of information regarding getting divorced in their county. Some firms even advertise a low cost “divorce kit” for the do-it-yourself (or pro se) parties.  If what I just described sounds like your situation, then you should consider exploring your options carefully. You should still consider consulting a family law attorney, if only for a limited purpose, because you may not realize you are relinquishing rights you may not even know existed.  In addition, the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania apply to each of the 67 counties. However, local practice and procedure, especially in family law matters can vary from county to county. Working with a competent family law attorney who is familiar with your particular county can help demystify the process for you.

NOTE: Once a final divorce decree is entered, it is extremely difficult to revisit (opening the divorce decree) and attempt to assert the rights that you had previously waived. In other words, if you file for divorce (with or without legal counsel) and you obtain a divorce decree, absent very limited circumstances, you can’t go back and claim you didn’t get a fair deal or you didn’t understand the consequences of what you were doing at the time.

Here below are other simple ways that you can help drive costs out of the divorce process if you do retain legal counsel.

Getting organized – the earlier the better 

If you hire a family law attorney, depending on your particular case, there is a good chance they will request many financial documents and statements. You may need to go online and print all of your banking and financial records, including past statements from years ago. You do not want your lawyer, or his paralegal and/or secretary to do this for you if you can take the time to do it yourself. Your attorney will need to carefully review the documents you produce. Make copies. Place them chronologically in binders or files. Keep personal copies (or scan them if you have a scanner) in the event your attorney has a question, he or she can contact you and you will both have a copy for reference.

Complying with discovery requests in a timely fashion

In most divorces, the parties will conduct discovery. Your attorney will be asked to provide the other side with certain documents you are asked to produce. Providing the requested documents in a timely fashion helps move the process along more quickly without unnecessary costs and delays.  Filing motions to compel production of the necessary documents wastes time and money, if it can be avoided. The “missing” documents are going to be obtained eventually anyway. Sometimes when one party is diligent and moves quickly regarding providing requested information, it can help set the pace to move the matter to a successful conclusion. I realize you can only control your actions and you can’t control the other side.  All things being equal, the sooner you can move the divorce process to a successful conclusion, the less costly it will be.

Always remember – do not let emotion, and lack of focus or lack of logic drive your actions. You do not want to end up losing control of your divorce process. Your attorney works for you, and the best outcomes are usually the product of collaborating closely with your attorney. Get your questions answered. Stay informed. It will reduce your stress and the fear that sometimes accompanies the unknown.
Avvo - Rate your Lawyer. Get Free Legal Advice.

The importance of maintaining good mental health and good physical health during divorce

Take care of yourself. Maintaining good mental health is one key element in being able to think clearly and logically during divorce. Maintaining good physical health, including getting enough exercise, will benefit you during divorce and beyond.

Research confirms that one of the most difficult issues you can face in life is going through a divorce. No two people will have the same exact response to the stress caused by a life changing event.  Your world may be turned upside down during divorce. Emotions may run wild. You are in unfamiliar territory. It is easy to feel out of control. You are not alone. This is common.

Think Logically
Having the ability to think logically will be a great benefit as you manage the stress of divorce.

Your ability to think clearly and logically will be two important assets for you during divorce. Maintaining good mental health may help you think more logically when you are under the tremendous stress that divorce can cause. 

While no two family law cases are exactly alike, there is a very good chance you will be called upon to make many choices during the divorce process. If you are working with a lawyer, he or she will set the legal strategy, do the legal work, explain the divorce process and the law, negotiate on your behalf,  keep you updated,  and answer your questions and concerns. Remember this fact: your lawyer works for you. It’s your case and ultimately, it is your life and future. Your lawyer will help guide you through the divorce process, and zealously advocate your position, within the law and within the rules of professional conduct. The more clearly and logically you can think, the better you will be able to evaluate what is happening around you and then make good choices with input from your lawyer. Thinking clearly and logically is not always easy during stressful and emotional times, but if you take the time to focus on your own well being, it can make the divorce process easier.

There are abundant mental health resources  available for people going through divorce. If you need assistance, be assured, you are not alone and help is available. 

Mental health professionals, support groups, and counselors are available to help you through the process of divorce. Some are trained to deal with divorce related issues. There are also books, webinars, and other media available to help you maintain your perspective and ability to think logically during what can be a very stressful time. It usually makes sense to use all the tools available to you to deal with the stress that can accompany divorce and allow the healing process to begin.

Avvo - Rate your Lawyer. Get Free Legal Advice.
 

Driving costs out of the divorce process – part one

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

One way to help drive costs out of the divorce process is to gather as much financial information as you can, especially while you still have access to it. Some lawyers call this early information gathering as “informal discovery”. The more information you can gather early in your divorce process, the more you will help expedite your divorce to a successful conclusion, while saving costs and fees in the process. Hopefully, this is part of your overall strategy, while protecting your legal rights.

Many divorces involve a process known as discovery. Discovery is basically the act or process of finding or learning something that was previously unknown. Many lawyers use discovery techniques to obtain financial documents and other key pieces of information. Bank records, tax returns, property appraisals, business records, investment and IRA account statements, etc. are needed to determine and accurately divide marital assets.

If you have access to this information, you should make copies and put the copies in a safe place, preferably, outside the marital home. When gathering and copying the information, it is better to be over inclusive rather than under inclusive.

Obviously, it is not always possible to obtain all the necessary information. Your lawyer knows this.  In many households, one spouse or the other typically handles the finances. That spouse usually stores the documents or knows their whereabouts. However, you have every right to obtain and copy anything you own.

Your lawyer can subpoena banks and financial institutions for any missing documents. There are other legal methods to obtain missing documents directly from your (soon to be) ex-spouse. All of this extra work can be time-consuming and/or expensive. The more prepared you are at the front end of the divorce process, the more you can help drive some of your costs and expenses out of the divorce process. 

This is just one way you can take a proactive role in lowering your overall costs in divorce.

Finding and choosing the right family law attorney – 4 points to consider

Choosing the right attorney for you is one of the most important elements in any family law matter. Here are a few things you may wish to consider:

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

#1) Depending on the nature of your case, you must have a very good working relationship with your family law attorney. A good working relationship with your attorney may help you achieve a better result, and do so more quickly. Thorough and honest two-way attorney-client communication is one essential element for getting good results, and moving on. 

There is no way around it. You will likely spend considerable time communicating with your family law attorney. If you don’t get a good feeling during your initial meeting, speak to another attorney. If you are not comfortable, you are certainly entitled to, and frankly should, meet with another attorney before hiring anyone. You are free to consult with as many attorneys as you like prior to hiring one.

Consulting with an attorney to see if there is a good fit does not mean you must hire the attorney. Some attorneys may charge a reduced fee for an initial consultation. Some attorneys offer a free initial consultation without really getting to know the details of your family law matter. Never feel pressured to hire an attorney. Choosing an attorney is an important decision that must be made with care.

Consider this: if you needed major surgery, you would probably get a second or even a third opinion. Going through a divorce or other family law issue is an important life event. Search vigorously, choose wisely.

#2) Every family law matter is somewhat unique. It is important to have a plan of action and set goals early in the process. You do not want to get aboard a runaway litigation train. 

Nobody ever goes into a marriage expecting to need to find and hire a divorce lawyer. It is normal to be confused. It is normal to have your emotions turned upside down. You will have many questions along the way. This is perfectly normal. Your lawyer should guide you through the sometimes foggy legal landscape. Relying on advice from a friend or loved one is usually not a substitute for hiring an attorney.

Many people are ambivalent about getting a lawyer involved. It is easy to understand why. I do not take it personally. Unfortunately, if a divorce or other family law matter seems imminent, the longer you wait, the messier things may become. In the context of a divorce, preparation is important. Setting an early course of action, guided by a client’s realistic goals, is very often a successful formula. A good attorney will be pragmatic, will be honest with you, will help you keep things in perspective, and will keep the process moving forward while zealously advocating for your interests. All while keeping you informed.

#3) Make sure you and your lawyer see the forest from the trees. You must try to work toward the same goals from day one.  Making the process more difficult than it needs to be is almost always counterproductive. 

In a divorce action, be sure you understand all of your options. Divorce Mediation, Collaboration, Binding Arbitration, Litigation, etc.

Pick your battles wisely. As I mentioned in another post, the more you and your (soon to be) ex-spouse can agree on, without unnecessary conflict, the less financially and emotionally draining the divorce process will be. Burning the earth for the sake of winning a relatively unimportant battle can be counterproductive, while increasing your costs. Sometimes a fine line exists between zealous representation to protect a client’s interests and acting like a junk yard dog.  A skilled family law attorney need not act like a junk yard dog to get excellent results.

 #4) Ask questions. Stay informed. Get educated about the process. It will help you overcome fear and move forward.

Some counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have a free law library. If you live near a law school, perhaps you can pay a nominal fee to use their law library. Some law schools have a family law clinic.  Many courthouses have a law library for public use for a nominal fee or free. Sometimes being well-informed relieves stress, allows for clearer thinking, and helps move your legal matter to a successful conclusion.