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 stress-saving option that provides 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.
Online divorces are completely valid and legal. The filed documents are legally binding and will result in a dissolution of your marriage. A judge will review your paperwork and issue a final divorce decree just like in any other divorce.
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, as 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. And, just in case the service doesn't live up to your expectations, find out if there's a guarantee or warranty—many services offer a full refund if your divorce papers are not accepted by the court or if the court doesn't finalize your divorce for some reason.
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 and Investopedia are excellent sources for trustworthy reviews of online divorce services. Also consider checking out blogs that are focused on the divorce process—many of these provide descriptions of various services by actual users (check to make sure that the descriptions are not paid endorsements).
Because they're so affordable, there's very 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.