Is the $399 Divorce for Real?

Elise Pettus

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) --I learned for certain that my marriage was on its way to extinction when I came across a memo to my husband referring to his recent contract with one of New York City's most infamous divorce attorneys. After picking myself up off the floor, I figured I had no choice but to fight fire with fire and hire the best (read: most expensive) lawyer I could afford.

After two years of negotiations and the better part of a five-figure legal retainer, I still wasn't divorced yet. What was I getting exactly, that wouldn't be available for say, $399, as the shop front in my neighborhood advertised?

A few weeks ago, I made a visit to find out. I introduced myself to Anna Soriano of Segarra Brokerage, who has been handling divorces for 20 years out of her small storefront on Smith Street in Brooklyn. As I sat down at her desk to get the scoop, she assured me that she had never had a problem in her two decades of practice.

My first question: "$399 for real?" Not exactly, it turns out. That's just the fee for legal- document preparation (divorce attorneys call it "data input"). Two more payments are required to cover court fees. When I ask how much, Soriano had to excuse herself to go check the small print on the ad in the window. All told, it would cost me $734. If you think that is a lot to pay someone to handle, file and process a bunch of forms, take a look at the cash I had shelled out.

In any event, as my new divorce acquaintance explained it, she and I fill out the application together, then she takes my check for $399 and sends it in to "the agency" (divorce attorneys call it "divorce mill"), where they submit it to the court for an index number that gets assigned to my case. That number is sent directly to me along with a fat packet of forms and documents. I fill those out (Soriano offered to help me if I needed) and submit those to the court. "Then," Soriano tells me, "it's up to the judges." The first step takes about two weeks, she tells me, "but then the courts can drag it out for two or three months." Still beats two or three years.

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