What’s The Typical Cost of a Pennsylvania Divorce?
Search for the average cost of a divorce in Pennsylvania and you will find published amounts from three to five figures at seemingly respectable websites but, as divorce filings here are not reported to any central authority, those figures are mere guesses with no basis in fact.
One may wonder what is the typical or average cost of a divorce in Pennsylvania. Search that question and you will see apparently reliable sources stating from $500 (uncontested and fully settled up by the parties themselves) to $12,500.00 for the same type of divorce. Where do these wildly differing amounts originate? That is more than just a very good question. First of all, there is no one source as to how many divorces are filed. Pennsylvania simply keeps absolutely no statistical record of divorce filings or grantings. One could go to each of our 67 counties and spend countless hours going through the Court records for filings over any period of time from one day to decades to even centuries; however, those filings are not compiled and put into any governmental or private database.
Another source would be records kept in the files of lawyers who file divorces. Good luck with that. Those records are all private and subject to attorney-client privilege; moreover, many people have filed their divorces without a lawyer (with a huge number of those never getting finished. See https://padivorce.com/diy-
Accordingly, if one has the time and desire to check all of our counties to compile divorce statistics by arduously going through Court records, what will virtually never be seen in any of those records is what the parties to a divorce spent on legal fees. (What is spent on Court filing fees is, however, in the Court records, but is typically a very small amount compared to legal fees.) That brings me to the $500 average divorce cost mentioned above that I saw at one legal website. While that amount may cover legal fees in the absolute simplest, least lawyer-involved type of divorce case, it cannot possibly include the Court filing fees as those alone amount to $300 to $400 in many counties.
One thing I have learned since being admitted to the practice of law in 1974 is that many, many lawyers, once a client takes a seat on the opposite side of the desk, announce that their basic retainer to commence a divorce action is in the neighborhood of $3500.00. And that announced charge is regardless of the difficulty or time involved. It is a minimum that will, hopefully for the client, cover enough of the lawyer’s hours to complete the divorce; however, once the lawyer’s hourly rate (which averages, in my experience, around $275 to $375 per billable hour and more) fills out the retainer, your case is on the hourly clock from that point forward.
“Churning”. To most folks, that is an old-fashioned way of making butter. It is also an unspoken term of art among some lawyers. Unfortunately, many attorneys take charge of a case right at the beginning and inform the client that, for them to be their lawyers, the clients must abide by their advice without question. No, it is not necessarily unethical behavior as most lawyers can legally justify everything that they do for a client in a case; however, lawyers can spend time performing legally justifiable services that contribute little or nothing to the outcome of a case. Those services are the “churning” of a case, needlessly dipping into a client’s wallet or purse to generate additional fees. A client may see such charges for services on the itemized bill and ask what some are and did they have to be done. The lawyer will have no trouble explaining exactly what was done and why it was necessary… and the time spent explaining will likely appear on the next bill!
There is no real typical or average cost of a Pennsylvania divorce. Who pays the highest amount? Couples who treat the divorce process as one of revenge. Clients who take divorces badly and overly personally are ripe targets for high fees. Who pays the least? Couples who, for any number of reasons, wish to simply and inexpensively end their marriages and move on with their lives, treating the divorce process as a sad but necessary life decision and settle things fairly themselves and select a low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce for as low as $219.00, total. Now, I’m not saying that divorce is not personal. It is and deeply so and it is always one party who decides they want a divorce before the other. Accepting that it is over serves one well. Striving to stay in a marriage when the other party no longer wants to is, quite frankly, just a losing battle. A very bright woman long ago said to me that it is better to be alone than in a bad relationship and, its corollary, attention for which one must beg is not worth having. Profound truths.