Getting a divorce online seems like a thing 21st-century couples should be able to do, but as always it’s not as simple as it sounds. This article will explore the new world of online divorce and help clarify divorcing couples’ options.
Online Divorce: What It Is, and What It Isn’t
In a world where almost everything can now be done online, it isn’t surprising that internet-based legal services are currently offering “low-cost online divorce” services. The way it’s usually described in the sales copy can leave the impression that getting a divorce over the internet is now as fast and simple as ordering a box set of DVDs from Amazon, but this is not the case. At least, not really – yet.
The usual process for getting a divorce online involves creating an account at one or another of the websites that advertise its help in the process, and then filling out a questionnaire that asks about your situation. The system then generates legal forms that should be acceptable in the jurisdiction where you’re getting the divorce, which you can download and take to a notary to sign and date. One of you can then swing by the local family court and officially file the paperwork, as well as pay whatever fees your county charges.
Is This Legal?
As described above, getting a divorce online is legal in most jurisdictions. While there’s no place in the U.S. or Canada that currently allows point-and-click divorces to go entirely through the internet, online divorce is allowable insofar as it’s just a streamlined way of assembling the necessary forms. In almost every jurisdiction, you’re still required to print up the forms, as you would with any court document, and then file them in person or by mail through the usual channels. The exact way you prepared the paperwork is immaterial in most uncontested divorces, and so the family court is not likely to make an issue out of whether you spent $300 (more or less) for an automated legal draft or $3,000 for the personal services of a lawyer.
Why Choose an Online Divorce?
As you may have noticed from the price comparison above, the relative cost of an online divorce service is one of its chief draws. By walking through an online questionnaire, divorcing couples can usually skip $200-plus-per-hour sessions with divorce attorneys and just pay whatever the online document prep company is charging, which is almost always an order of magnitude less than traditional legal fees.
Preparing a divorce online is also usually a lot faster than working through a traditional divorce. Filing through an attorney usually requires several meetings to be scheduled for consultation and drafting of papers – often the same documents you’d be printing out for yourself if you’d gone online. For an uncontested divorce, it might not be necessary to meet with anybody but the notary public and the clerk of the court.
Another advantage of filling out divorce paperwork online is the accuracy it brings to the process. The questionnaire format most services use almost guarantees the right information is entered into the appropriate fields, and that inaccuracies that can delay or derail the process are kept to a minimum. If the form you’re filling out is known to be one accepted by the court in your jurisdiction, and the fields are populated by asking simple yes or no questions, the process is difficult to do wrong. Most (if not all) services also give you a chance to review the completed paperwork for accuracy and make changes if you or your spouse spot an error. That fact-checking is hard to do when the initial divorce filing is prepared in the other party’s lawyer’s office and submitted without your input.
Good and Bad Candidates for Online Divorce
As you might have guessed, not every divorce is a good candidate for online document preparation. Otherwise, there’d be no other kind of divorce. Online divorces work best when certain conditions are met, and they can fail when major unresolved issues crop up between parties. A valuable document prep company starts you out with some initial questioning to determine whether your situation is a good match for their services. Briefly, they need to know whether:
Your local court allows online divorce: Not every jurisdiction lets this kind of hands-off approach to drafting court papers. Some family courts just haven’t adjusted yet, while others require divorcing couples to at least consult with a lawyer, and still, others cling to old-fashioned rules out of a desire to not make dissolving a marriage too convenient. If your court system is one of these, you may not be able to get your divorce paperwork online.
Your divorce is simple and uncontested: Marriage is a contract between you, your spouse and the state where you got married. The contract imposes certain requirements on you both regarding the division of property, payment of spousal and child support, visitation and custody rights. All five of these matters have to be resolved before you can get divorced. If even one point is not settled between you, the court may have to schedule a hearing with a judge before you can finish the divorce.
Getting a divorce online may be the wave of the future, but it isn’t for every couple. If you live in an area where the court allows it, and you’re able to work with your soon-to-be-ex, and you don’t need legal advice; then preparing your divorce online can be a time- and money-saver. Otherwise, you’re almost always better off at least consulting with a local lawyer who specializes in family law, even if it’s just for advice.