$399.00 One Signature Divorces: Classic Bait and Switch

After handling over 15,000 divorces over the last 20 years I am confronted with billboards in New York City and advertisements touting “$399.00 uncontested-no signature required” divorces.  How is this possible?  After all of the research and contacting most all of the places that advertise these “too good to be true” fees, I have come to the conclusion that this is a bait and switch scam and only 1 in a 1000 divorces are truly a $399.00 one signature required divorce by a non-lawyer with at least $400.00 in filing fees in addition to the fee of $399.00.

Who are these service providers?

They are paralegals.  They are not attorneys.  They may be a “shop” whereby legal services are offered under the guise of a legal service agency.  A Paralegal is a vaunted and well established career yet they are not lawyers.

Upon contacting over 15 of these agencies we were confronted with one unmistakable truth:  these people cannot answer legal questions.  They are not lawyers.  They should not answer legal questions.

What does $399.00 cover?

A package of forms available on any internet database.  These forms are then filled out with names, social security numbers and a wish list of what the client wants.

Are there additional fees?

Yes.  There are most certainly additional fees.  The average cost of a divorce has over $400.00 in filing fees which include the following: Index Number $210.00; Request for Judicial Intervention: $95.00; Note of Issue: $30.00; Stipulation of Settlement: $35.00; Certified copy of Judgment of Divorce $10.00; and Process server fees in the amount of $150.00 to $200.00.

No signature required

No divorces actually require a signature, ever.  The most contested divorces do not require any signatures whatsoever because the only signature that is actually necessary is a judge’s signature on the Judgment of Divorce.

When a divorce is served upon someone, if that person does not appear or does not care about the divorce process, the person who is interested in the divorce (the Plaintiff) proceeds without the defendant’s signature and/or participation. The divorce goes into default and an inquest is usually held.  This is rarely done based upon papers alone and requires one to two court appearances.  The claim that a divorce can be done without a signature is nearly impossible in the State of New York.   Divorces can, theoretically, be done by a paralegal and produced for less than $300.00.  It can be served and filed with filing fees for another $400.00.  If there are no children, assets or property, the Clerk (1 through 5 percent chance) may sign it.  Then a default judgment would be granted.   In 95% of the cases, this would not occur and it would take many months to complete the divorce.

For example, it could be that the person who is not participating did not get proper notice and thereby would be cut off from their equitable distribution rights as to property, pensions, 401(k), retirement plans or any other assets of the individual divorcing him/her.  Previously when this was a “fault” state, parties would get quick divorces for under a $1,000.00 by going to the Dominican Republic for 2  weeks or Las Vegas for 6 to 9 weeks or to Arizona for 90 days.  They would remain there, establish residency and get a divorce as to grounds only. They would then return to New York to fight about the assets and/or the children.

Caveat emptor/Buyer beware

It is one thing to make a mountain out of a mole hill.  However, to make a complex legal maneuver such as a divorce seem so simple that it can be done without any signature or as little as $300.00 has to be nothing short of bait and switch and/or deceptive.  The fact that it is not being done with attorneys demonstrates that these individuals are probably able to prey upon the public outside of the attorney ethics code and outside of the rules that govern advertising by attorneys and counselors of law.

It is not possible to do a divorce for $399.00 with only one signature except in the limited (extremely limited less than 1% chance) scenario when the papers are filed (together with an additional $400.00 in filing fees) there are no assets, no children, no problem and a clerk who doesn’t ask any questions.

Marriage should not be entered into lightly.  Most adults that end up regretting their marriage should not regret the manner in which they divorce.  Take divorce seriously because it may effect great rights with respect to support and property (and if children are involved never divorce without an attorney).

We offer free consultations at Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C.  We have handled divorces for as little as $1,5000.00.  It is certainly possible to divorce for less than $2,000.00, however, it is not the norm.  It is a very small, small, minority of cases.  The average divorce requires a retainer of approximately $3,450.00, together with $400.00 for filing fees and service of process.  Our hourly rate is $345.00 per hour which is extremely competitive in New York. We welcome cases challenging and complex through the uncontested one (1) signature variety.


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