By James W. Cushing
Special to the Legal
I am sure you have seen billboard or newspaper advertisements that read something like “$250 Divorce!” or “Divorce Only $350!” Usually, the prices indicated are less than $500; indeed they are so low that they are less than the typical lawyer’s hourly rate for one hour of work, let alone a proper full retainer. How can these rates be so low for this sort of work? Clearly there has to be a catch.
Like most unbelievable deals, the cheap rates do come with a catch, but for some people it may be a risk worth taking. The key to one of these low-cost divorces is that they require filing in a distant Pennsylvania county, usually where neither party resides - Potter County, for example - and a guarantee that there will be no resistance from the opposing spouse or any sort of property division.
The reason for filing in places like Potter County is that the total court fees and costs for a divorce are $69. This is in contrast to the court fees and costs for a divorce, in Philadelphia, which currently are $316 for the complaint and $66 for the praecipe to transmit, plus other fees required for motions and/or seeking equitable distribution, etc. So, right off the bat, there is more than a $300 savings in court costs and fees alone. It should be noted that the opposing party must stipulate to the jurisdiction of a foreign county over the divorce or else the entire endeavor to file the divorce in that county is a non-starter.
The reason for restricting these divorces to matters where there is complete cooperation and no property division is because, perhaps obviously, fees begin to add up when the parties start bickering over various things or need to seek some sort of property division, whether by agreement or order of court. As soon as either one of the above begins to occur, the low rate is immediately untenable for the lawyer representing one of the parties. If the parties are completely cooperative without any sort of property division, litigating the divorce only involves preparing some form documents and filing them at the correct times and in the correct order. Obviously, litigating in this fashion will take very little time or effort on the attorney’s part, which justifies taking the case at such an extremely reduced rate.
So, from the client’s point of view, there is a risk or tradeoff. On one hand, filing in your local county is more expensive, but if something goes wrong you have the security of being able to litigate the issues conveniently and locally without having to withdraw your complaint and start afresh elsewhere. On the other hand, filing in a different county is very cheap and easy, but if something goes wrong, the cost to litigate in a very distant county likely becomes prohibitively expensive and extremely inconvenient. Either way, you will have to withdraw your complaint in the foreign county and file a new complaint in your own county, potentially wasting the time and money that was spent filing elsewhere.
Both of the above options are viable and legitimate; it just depends on whether the circumstances suggest one over the other. Ultimately, the decision of where and how to proceed lies with the client as long as he or she is fully aware of the pros and cons, and costs and benefits, of each of the options described above.