If you're looking for ways to keep costs down and make your divorce less stressful, finding an alternative to the traditional court process is crucial. And, for many people, paying a lawyer thousands of dollars to handle the process is simply out of the question.
Representing yourself is a good way to save money, but filing a divorce in the courts without help can be overwhelming. Even when your state court has free self-help information available, navigating the process and figuring out which forms to use can still be frustrating and confusing.
Fortunately, there's a, easier stress-saving option with a level of assistance that falls between having to DIY your divorce and hiring an attorney: online divorce services.
An online divorce is one where you use an online service to walk you through steps in your divorce, such as preparing the divorce papers, drafting a divorce settlement agreement, and filing the paperwork with the court. These services take the guesswork out of your divorce: Based on your responses to an online interview or questionnaire, the service will fill out the paperwork you need to file and tell you where to file it (or how to e-file it in some counties). Some online divorce services even file the forms for you at an additional cost.
If you're concerned about whether online divorce is legitimate or valid, rest assured that it's completely legal to have a service complete the divorce paperwork for you. Once you sign the documents and they're filed with the court, they're legally binding. A judge will review your paperwork and issue a final divorce (or "dissolution of marriage") decree just like in any other divorce.
Of course, some services might be more reliable than others. When you're comparing them and reading reviews (more on that below), look for how long the service has been around and whether it offers any guarantees—such as full refund if the court doesn't accept your divorce papers or doesn't finalize your divorce for some reason.
Online divorce is appropriate for "uncontested" divorces. An uncontested divorce is one where both spouses want a divorce and agree on all the issues in their divorce, including:
In addition, you'll need to choose a "no-fault ground" for the divorce, such as "irreconcilable differences" or "irretrievable breakdown of marriage." Online divorce services don't allow you to accuse your spouse of adultery, substance abuse, or abandonment, or another "fault ground."
Before you can complete your divorce, you'll need to have the resolution of your issues written out in a divorce settlement agreement (also known as a "marital settlement agreement" or a "marital separation agreement"). Many online divorce services will help you put together the agreement as part of a divorce package or for an additional fee.
Online divorce is not for you when:
Also, some online divorce services will not handle a divorce where the filing spouse can't locate the other spouse.
You'll need to find an online service that handles divorce in your state. As online divorce becomes more common (thank you, pandemic!), more and more services have expanded their services nationwide. But before you get too attached to a particular service, confirm that it handles divorces in your state.
Once you've found a few options, you can dig deeper to find the best match for your needs. Most online divorce services have informative websites where you'll find detailed information about what they can and can't do for you, as well as a description of how the process works and what costs and fees you can expect.
Look for services that explain their process clearly and thoroughly, since this is a strong indicator that the service will continue to provide similar clarity once you've signed up. Check out any demos on the website. Just in case the service doesn't live up to your expectations, find out if there's a guarantee or warranty. You might also consider whether the service has good security measure on its website, since you'll be providing a lot of confidential information.
Online divorce services charge $199 to $2,500, and you can split the fee with your spouse. Even at the higher end of the range, that's a big savings compared to the cost of divorce with two lawyers and a trial. These charges don't usually include court filing fees, notarization fees, or service of process fees, which can amount to several hundred dollars more.
Some services charge a flat fee; others have a subscription-type model where you pay monthly for as long as it takes to finalize your divorce. If you're wary of getting stuck in a recurring subscription, DivorceNet's Online Divorce offers a one-time flat fee.
While offline DIY divorces can be cheaper, they require you to do more research and legwork; you need to track down the forms you need to file for your particular situation—and you might even need to create some of your own legal documents.
Once you and your spouse have decided to divorce and agree to use an online divorce service, the steps in your divorce typically proceed as follows.
There are plenty of online divorce services, but not all are equal. Your best bet is to find a service that has been around for at least a few years and has positive online reviews. Trustpilot is an excellent source for trustworthy reviews of online divorce services. (DivorceNet's online divorce service also goes by "3StepDivorce" in many reviews.) You might also consider checking out blogs that are focused on the divorce process, many of which provide descriptions of various services by actual users (check to make sure that the descriptions are not paid endorsements).
Because they're usually so affordable, there's little downside to trying out an online divorce service when you're planning to file an uncontested divorce. If you ultimately decide that a DIY service isn't right for you—for example, you change your mind about getting divorced or find you need to hire a lawyer after all—you won't feel like you've broken the bank.