No one wants to pay too much for anything. Nonetheless, when we part with our money to receive something, we expect it to be a good value. We all hate it when we pay for anything and then find out that it was not worth what we spent. This could apply to a car, truck, television, headphones, laptop, or even a divorce.
We generally expect certain items and services to be somewhat costly. We dislike the bill from the dentist as much or more than sitting in the dentist’s chair and having our gums and teeth poked and scraped with metal tools and drills. Those of us that have had to take our pet to the veterinarian expect a hefty charge for those professional services.
What about lawyers? More specifically, what is the cost of a divorce in PA? It is impossible to go through life and not hear or read about, for example, celebrities divorcing and millions of dollars changing hands. Certainly, the lawyer’s fees in such cases are astronomical. Attorneys love it, from a financial angle when a couple has money and wants to teach each other a lesson through the divorce process. “I’m going to take you to the cleaners in this divorce” is a line that one might hear in an older movie… or in one’s own case or that of a friend or acquaintance.
Even in such ridiculously expensive divorces, experienced divorce lawyers could predict with fair accuracy who will ultimately end up with what. Those couples could drastically reduce the cost of their divorces by holding their emotions in check, spend no time fighting – in or out of court – and following the lawyers’ advice. True, a party to a divorce may derive less satisfaction from the case if he/she never gets the chance to tell the world, officially, about the terrible wrongs which the other party did to them. Then again, it is true that time heals all wounds. Also, actively maintaining hatred for the ex is a whole lot of work…and chances are that the ex doesn’t even care anyway. But we are all human beings and taking a pass on exacting revenge may not be easy for any of us.
Then again, exacting vengeance is never cheap and it adds quickly and mightily to the cost of a divorce. Generally speaking, the only true winners after a mean, nasty, down-and-dirty divorce are the two attorneys who will remain friendly colleagues during and after the case. Their only regret may be that it finally ended and they will be able to send out only one last bill for professional services.
Sad to say, there’s a term for the way some lawyers handle and continually drive up the cost of clients’ divorces. It’s called “churning”. No, it is not dishonest. Lawyers churning a case will be able to justify every action they took in the divorce even though it may not have been absolutely necessary and did little for their clients’ interests… except to drive up the cost of the divorce. Such attorneys will tell their clients that the seemingly needlessly expensive actions are either routine or required. The clients have no way of knowing if they are being represented zealously or just expensively.
In my practice of simple, low-cost, uncontested, no-fault divorce actions, I seldom run into clients whose chief intent is to “get back at” their spouses for the way they’ve been treated. My clients typically have enough common sense that they simply wish to end the marriage as simply, fairly, inexpensively, and quickly as possible. They understand that revenge really will not give them any real satisfaction. They look forward to a new and better life going forward. Accordingly, they seek a simple divorce process of the lowest possible cost.
It is true that a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce is not for everyone. After all, all truly low-cost divorces require the consent and availability of both parties from beginning to end no matter how long they may have been separated. If your spouse’s consent in writing cannot be gotten for any reason (such as outright refusal or whereabouts being truly unknown to everyone), it cannot be done at a low cost.
But when both parties are on the same page, both ready to go their separate ways, neither arguing about who gets what, it is really just a matter of correctly preparing, signing, and filing the necessary documents to keep the cost of the divorce action to a minimum. This is what I have been doing for clients since 1980 when Pennsylvania first enacted no-fault divorce…keeping the costs of divorce as low as possible. In fact, while the courts have continually raised their filing fees over the years since 1980, my fee has increased only about $10.00. Would you not agree that it is really holding down the cost of a divorce, a simple, low-cost, uncontested, no-fault divorce, to a minimum?
Clients who finally entrusted their divorces to me have repeatedly told me that the lawyer “in town” wanted $3000.00 upfront just to accept my case. The fact is that such lawyers charge so much because of the way they handle their cases. There will be repeated office visits, possible trips to the court, and those lawyers expect something to go wrong so they need to up the cost of handling even a routine divorce “just in case” there’s a problem. Depending on how a divorce case proceeds, that $3000.00 may end up covering an hour of the attorney’s time or many hours. At least that is what such lawyers prepare for, and, no, you will not be getting any of that money back if your case is simple, quick, and easy. Retainers are almost always non-refundable. It has always been that way and is unlikely to ever change.
It is true that if the cost of a divorce is high upfront, a client may end up with more documents to show for it, such as a hundred-page settlement agreement full of fully justifiable boilerplate language indecipherable to clients but explained as necessary by the lawyers. But, in Pennsylvania, an agreement is not required by law and if, when the divorce is final, each party has received what was agreed, an agreement serves absolutely no purpose going forward… it just needlessly increased the cost of the divorce.
Is there a lesson here? For reasonable people who want to end their marriage and minimize the cost of their divorce, yes, definitely. If one or both parties’ main goal in a divorce action is to prove a point and exact revenge, then the cost of the divorce becomes a secondary consideration… and may the best person win. But that person will likely be the lawyer.