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Divorce in Pennsylvania: How Much Does it Cost?

The average cost for a divorce in Pennsylvania is about $14,300 if no kids are involved and about $21,500 if kids are involved. However, the amount your divorce will end up costing could be much more or much less than those averages depending on a variety of factors, including how many "contested" issues are involved in your case as well as the divorce route you take.

The more issues you and your spouse cannot agree on, the higher your divorce costs are going to be. That's because you are generally paying an attorney for their time to help you resolve these issues. On the other hand, if you choose to represent yourself in the divorce, you will likely save a lot of money upfront, but costly mistakes could come back to haunt you.

The following information will give you a clearer picture of what makes divorce expensive, options you have for reducing the cost of your divorce, and when it makes sense to hire an attorney (or go at it alone).

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce Costs in Pennsylvania

A contested divorce means there are issues that still need to be resolved, such as property division, child custody, child support, or spousal maintenance. An uncontested divorce means you and your spouse have been able to reach an agreement on your own. There is nothing left to divide or figure out.

In an uncontested divorce, all you need to do is prepare divorce documents, file them with the court, and then wait for a judge to approve.

In a contested divorce, you choose a dispute resolution process to attempt to work out any issues that you and your spouse don't agree on. Most people start with simple negotiations and perhaps hire a mediator. If you still can't reach an agreement, you might try other methods of dispute resolution, or you may decide to ask the court to intervene.

Typically, the divorce will get more expensive with each contested issue and with each round of unsuccessful settlement efforts. The issues that are most likely to cause spouses to disagree during a divorce are:

  • Child custody and parenting time
  • Child support
  • Property division, including division of retirement accounts, real estate, and business interests
  • Spousal support or alimony
  • Income and earnings for self-employed individuals

Cases with no children and relatively few assets tend to resolve a lot quicker than cases with children and significant assets. However, the main cause of expense in divorce cases is being unable to reach a settlement agreement.

When Should I Pay an Attorney to Handle Something?

Attorney fees will likely be the largest bill from your divorce. If you think about it, attorneys charge fees for their time, and the more time they work on your case, the more they are going to charge.

If your case goes to trial, you can expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. However, sometimes paying an attorney a lot of money still ends up being worth the amount they are able to recover for you in the divorce.

So, is it worth it to get a lawyer's help during your divorce? While you do not need a lawyer to get divorced, most people highly benefit from a lawyer's guidance and advocacy. This is especially true if:

  • You don't trust your spouse to be honest and forthcoming about finances
  • You and your spouse don't see eye-to-eye on kid issues like custody or support
  • You were overwhelmed or confused by the divorce self-help paperwork
  • You have a history of domestic violence or substance abuse in your marriage (see more about domestic violence and staying safe)
  • You are concerned about how you will support yourself financially after divorce

Many people find that attorneys can be very helpful with the following:

  • Helping you stay focused on the legal and financial issues that matter
  • Making sure you know your rights and the law that applies
  • Completing the necessary paperwork and filing it with the court
  • Calculating child support based on state law
  • Advising on a suitable parenting plan
  • Preparing for and attending court on your behalf
  • Making sure that you get what you are entitled to under the law

There are many additional ways in which divorce attorneys help people through the process. Hiring a lawyer doesn't necessarily mean that your case will go to court or end up being expensive. You can actually hire a lawyer for just some of the aspects of your case, if that's all you need help with.

Options That Affect the Cost of Your Pennsylvania Divorce

Most people don't realize that there are many different ways of going through divorce. Below you will find a list of different divorce options, the general costs you can expect, and the pros and cons of each option.

  Description:

Cost:

Pros and Cons:

Do-It-Yourself In a DIY divorce, you do everything yourself, from negotiating a settlement with your spouse to filling out the required forms to filing the forms with the court. DIY divorce is permitted across Pennsylvania, though it is recommended that you at least have a lawyer review your divorce agreement before filing. Least expensive
  • Pros: You save money by not having to pay a divorce professional. If you and your spouse can work together to reach a settlement you both feel good about, more power to you.
  • Cons: You could end up making a costly mistake, or your agreement could be rejected by the court if the judge doesn't find it suitable. There is also a significant time investment in preparing the court documents.
Mediation A neutral third-party mediator facilitates negotiations that help you address any issues that need to be resolved in your case. You can attend mediation with or without lawyers. Modest, depending on the mediator you choose
  • Pros: Mediation is a way you can get professional help reaching a settlement, with or without having a lawyer. The mediator will facilitate the negotiations and may suggest options, but will never make a decision. You remain in control of the outcome of your case.
  • Cons: People are not always able to reach settlement on all issues in mediation, thus requiring additional mediation time or litigation.
Note: Sometimes, mediation is required by the court (especially in cases with minor children).
Limited-Scope Representation In limited scope representation, you pay a lawyer to help you with only certain aspects of your divorce, such as drafting or reviewing your divorce settlement or attending a court hearing with you. Usually, family law attorneys charge a flat fee for these services. A less expensive way to hire a lawyer
  • Pros: This can be more cost-effective than full-scope representation, and still allows you to get professional help on the tasks you don't think you can handle on your own.
  • Cons: Not all lawyers offer bundled services, so it might take you awhile to find the right divorce lawyer.
Litigation Litigation refers to using the court system to determine the terms of your divorce. Usually the most expensive option
  • Pros: You have a chance to present your side of the case to a judge, who will then issue an unbiased ruling. This can be the only option in a case involving domestic violence or substance abuse.
  • Cons: Litigation is expensive and gives the decision-making power to someone who does not know you or your family very well.
Collaborative Law Collaborative law involves a structured out-of-court settlement process in which the parties and their attorneys agree not to litigate (or new lawyers have to be retained). Can be less or more expensive than other options, depending on how many "specialists" are involved and how long the negotiations take
  • Pros: Collaborative law takes a more holistic approach, which can create a more positive outcome for everyone involved. The focus is on respect, so positive groundwork for co-parenting is laid.
  • Cons: Collaborative law can be expensive and it is not ideal for situations involving mistrust, abuse, or substance issues.

How Much Are Divorce Filing Fees in Pennsylvania?

Courts in every state charge a fee in order to "file" or record a divorce. In Pennsylvania, filing fees vary from county to county. They also vary depending on the type of document that is being filed and the contested issues involved. Filing fees can be hundreds of dollars in some counties.

For example, in Bucks County, the filing fee for a divorce complaint is $382.50. There is an additional fee of $87.50 if there is an "equitable division" complaint involved, i.e., the couple needs help dividing marital property, and an additional fee of $95.25 if there are custody or visitation issues to resolve. Another fee of $88 is added if "special relief" is sought, such as temporary support.

You pay the filing fees at the beginning of the divorce process. They are required to formally start the divorce.

If you cannot afford the filing fees, you can petition the court for In Forma Pauperis status. You must prove that your income and expenses do not allow you to pay. The In Forma Pauperis form must be completed and taken to the records office in your county, called the Prothonotary or Office of Judicial Records.

How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost in Pennsylvania?

The average hourly fee for divorce lawyers in Pennsylvania is $250 per hour, but that amount can be higher or lower depending on how much experience the lawyer has and what city they are located in.

Typically, divorce lawyers ask clients to put down a large retainer at the beginning of cases for $2,000-$5,000 to draw from as they complete work on the case. Additional retainers will be sought as the case continues on. If the entire retainer is not spent, the attorney returns the unspent retainer to the client. However, usually more than one retainer is needed to complete a divorce.

Most divorce lawyers in Pennsylvania accept credit cards, and some offer payment plans. Others provide flat fee services rather than billing by the hour. This is growing more common. It is also possible to ask a lawyer to assist with only parts of your case, such as reviewing your divorce agreement, drafting divorce papers, or attending a hearing with you.

If you are low income, it may be possible to find a lawyer who will represent you for a low fee or no fee (pro bono).

Can I File for Divorce in Pennsylvania Without a Lawyer?

Yes. In fact, many people choose to handle their divorce cases by themselves without hiring a lawyer. However, it is almost always preferable to have a lawyer involved, even if it is just to review your divorce agreement for mistakes you could be making or issues you could be missing.

How Long Will a Divorce Take in California?

How long your divorce takes will depend on a few different factors, including:

  • How many issues you have that need to be resolved
  • Whether your spouse consents to the divorce
  • Whether you have complex assets such as a family business or high-net-worth assets
  • How backed up the court in your county is

The more simple and straightforward your divorce is, the less time it will take to complete. The legal grounds for divorce also affect how long the divorce process takes. There are two grounds for no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania: mutual consent and irretrievable breakdown.

Mutual consent:

  • This common ground for divorce is used when both parties agree to the divorce. Each party must file an affidavit consenting to the divorce.
  • A divorce based on mutual consent takes about four to five months to complete.
  • There is a mandatory 90-day waiting period that has to run between filing the papers and when the divorce decree can be finalized.
  • After the 90-day waiting period, it usually takes another couple of months for the court to finalize the divorce.

Irretrievable breakdown:

  • After a couple has lived "separately" for at least two 2 years, a spouse may file for divorce on the grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
  • There is no mandatory 90-day waiting period.
  • If there are no contested issues, the divorce may only take a couple months to finalize.
  • The divorce can still be granted if one spouse denies the two-year separation or denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, but it will require a court hearing and the judge could potentially continue the case for 90-120 days (unless the couple agrees to longer).

Getting Help With a California Divorce

Meeting with a family law attorney is always a good idea if you think a divorce is in your future. A Pennsylvania divorce lawyer can walk you through the options you have available so you can choose the right route for your situation and reduce legal fees, if that is your goal.

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