Low Cost Pennsylvania Divorce – Myth or Reality ?
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.