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Online Divorce: Is It Right for You?

Tips to understand what it is and how to know if it's a fit for your family.

Are You Considering Divorce?

Jasper and Helena have been married for five years. During these years they have worked hard in their careers and, according to Jasper, they have grown apart. “We are just roommates, now. No romance at all,” he says. They live in a rented apartment and have no children. They agree that they want to divorce and come to me with a handwritten “kitchen table agreement” about how to handle their bank accounts, as well as the costs of splitting up their property, cars, and so on. “It’s all very simple,” Helena says. “Can’t we just do this online? Do we really need lawyers?”

Chris and Leon have been married for more than 12 years, own a home, and have adopted three children. Leon has been a stay-at-home parent since the children joined their family. When they bring in their “kitchen table agreement” they have spelled out how they want to continue to share parenting time, as well as how they want to divide their belongings and debts. They have come up with an agreement as to how Chris’ future income will be shared to support Leon and the children until all three are in high school. They plan to nest for at least the first couple of years and commit to developing a nesting plan. They also ask about an online divorce option.

I ask clients like Chris, Leon, Jasper, and Helena how they arrived at their agreements because I want to make sure that there was no coercion or pressure. I want to be sure that they understand their financial situation completely, and that they have educated themselves about their legal rights, obligations, and entitlements. I also want to take the emotional “temperature” since divorce is much more emotional than legal.

There are over a million divorces every year in the US. A survey by Martindale Nolo found that the average cost of a divorce is $22,000, and many are much higher. If you have been saving for a rainy day, your divorce might be that rainstorm.

As divorce costs have increased, so has the demand for less costly options, and online divorce has been widely marketed over the last few years. A quick Google search shows that there are many online divorce companies, touting that the divorce can be completed quickly and at almost no cost. The forms may take a few hours to complete, and the cost is generally a few hundred dollars, plus the costs of filing fees, notaries, and other expenses. Perhaps you're comfortable working online, doing therapy online, or even working from home online. Divorcing online sounds like a good idea, right? The question is: Is your divorce appropriate for an online divorce? And if so, how to choose the right company?

When Is Online Divorce a Good Option?

Online divorce is only appropriate for an uncontested divorce. When you and your spouse agree on how to handle your finances and parenting issues, your divorce may be uncontested, which means that the court can grant the divorce without you having to go through a litigation process. Jasper and Helena want to remain friends after their divorce and see eye-to-eye on all of the aspects of the divorce. Their situation is relatively straightforward, so they are good candidates for an online divorce. However, the more complex your finances, your parenting situation, or your relationship with each other, the less likely an online divorce will be able to provide the support you need. Chris and Leon learned about the online divorce process and then agreed that they preferred a professional mediator to assist them.

When Is It a Bad Idea?

If you have had a hard time resolving disagreements during your marriage, it won’t get easier during the divorce. You need a level playing field. This means you and your spouse each understand all of the issues, can make careful decisions collaboratively, and work out agreements you can keep. If one of you doesn’t understand your finances, can’t control emotions, or is intimidating, threatening, or highly anxious, then you need more support. The online divorce companies will not work when you and your spouse are not in agreement about all of the issues.

If you don’t understand or can’t agree on the issues around assets, debts, property, income, expenses, and parenting, you need a professional to guide, inform, and counsel you. Whether you choose mediation, a collaborative divorce, or another settlement-oriented process, you may spend more time and money, but you will end up with a durable legal resolution you can live with. While these options are more expensive, they will cost much less than litigating your divorce or going back to try to re-do your agreements later.

For most people, divorce is a life crisis. One never plans to divorce when standing at the wedding altar. The disappointments and betrayals may generate intense emotions of anger, grief, guilt, or anxiety. While filling out forms online may sound simple enough, if you are flooded with emotions, you’ll need backup support from divorce professionals. If you have children and are going to share parenting time, you will benefit from the expertise of professionals who understand the legal system, as well as child development and the effect of divorce on children.

With So Many Online Divorce Companies, How Do You Decide?

If you have decided that you feel grounded, emotionally stable, and are in agreement with your spouse about all the issues related to separation and divorce, you face your next big decision. Which company can you trust and which will be best for you and your situation?

First, different states have different laws, different forms, and different requirements. Be sure that the company you choose guarantees that the forms you will use will be accepted by the courts in your state. Some online divorce companies only operate in certain states. Be sure that you choose one that handles divorces in your state.

Some states have mandatory waiting periods (cooling-off periods) and they vary among states. Most states have specific residency requirements. Some states require separation periods, longer if you have children. Filing fees vary from state to state. The references below include links to state-specific information.

Some online divorce companies have a chat function for customer support, many do not. Most do not have lawyers to review your documents. Some will refer you to lawyers in your area if necessary, but that will cost you. Some will file the forms for you (usually at an additional cost), others tell you how to file them yourself. In the references below you will find reviews of specific online divorce companies.

Beware of the Potential Dangers:

  • You are not represented by an attorney in online divorce. You need to advocate for yourself.
  • You are not receiving legal education, advice, or counsel. You should know your rights, obligations, and entitlements so that you can make informed decisions. If you don’t know the laws, you may make agreements that you will later regret.
  • Some sites have hidden fees.

Read reviews to find the online divorce site that will work for you, your spouse, and in your state. Whatever process you choose, strive for a peaceful divorce.

© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2022


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