How to File for Divorce Online

Online divorce is a legal, inexpensive, and efficient option—when you and your spouse agree on the issues in your divorce.

By , Attorney

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.

What Is an Online Divorce?

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.

Are Online Divorces Legal or Legit?

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.

Is an Online Divorce Right for You?

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:

  • your spouse doesn't want a divorce
  • you and your spouse cannot agree on child support or custody, or have a complex custody situation (for example, a child with special needs)
  • you and your spouse can't agree on alimony (also called spousal support or maintenance)
  • you and your spouse cannot agree on how to divide assets or debts
  • you and your spouse have extensive property or a complicated financial situation
  • there has been recent spousal abuse or domestic violence, or
  • you are afraid for yourself or your children.

Also, some online divorce services will not handle a divorce where the filing spouse can't locate the other spouse.

How to Choose an Online Divorce Provider

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.

How Much Does Online Divorce Cost?

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.

Steps in an Online Divorce

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.

  1. Create an account. With any online divorce service, you'll be asked to create a user account that's password protected. You'll need to answer a few basic questions about yourself and your spouse to get started and confirm that you're eligible to use the service.
  2. Gather and enter your information. Once you're signed up, it's time to enter in the information needed to complete your divorce paperwork, such as details about your financial situation, property, and any children. Typically, entering the information into the online service's application takes about an hour, but you might need more time to research and gather everything you need. Note that even when you and your spouse agree on how to handle your financial issues and child custody and support, the court will require you to make detailed disclosures about these topics in your paperwork.
  3. Review all of your information. You will have the opportunity to review and edit all of the answers you provided to the interview or questionnaire you filled out.
  4. Generate and complete your forms. After you've double-checked the information you've provided, the service will generate completed versions of all the forms you need to file, which should include a marital settlement agreement. You might need to fill in additional information, such as your case number or up-to-date income information, on some of the forms. With most services, you can download and print as many copies of these forms as you want or you can request the service to mail paper copies to you. You'll need to sign the documents before submitting them to the court—the service will let you know where to sign, how to sign (either by electronic signature or pen-and-ink signature), and whether you'll need to have anything notarized.
  5. File the forms with the appropriate court. If you'll be filing the paperwork yourself, the service you're working with will provide you with detailed instructions of where and how to file. In many states, the court will want you to file an initial set of forms at the outset, including the main divorce "petition" or "complaint," followed by a second set of documents later. (For instance, in Texas, after filing an Original Petition for Divorce, you'll bring the rest of the documents to a hearing: a signed Marital Settlement Agreement, a Final Decree of Divorce form, a Child Support Worksheet (if you have minor children), and an Income Withholding Order (for child support or spousal support.) The divorce service you choose should provide instructions about which forms to file first.
  6. Give your spouse the divorce paperwork. You'll likely need to "serve" your spouse with the paperwork. Even when spouses are filing an uncontested divorce, most states require that the divorce paperwork be filed by only one spouse, who then serves the other spouse with the papers. In many states, you can ask your spouse to sign a waiver of service form instead. If your state doesn't have a waiver form, or your spouse won't sign it, you might need to hire a process server. (If the service you're working with files your paperwork with the court, you'll just need to make sure you've submitted complete and signed copies to the service.)
  7. Judicial review of your paperwork. Most online services do a good job with filling out the proper paperwork for you—the chances of the court rejecting it are slim. But the court might notify you that you need to correct or complete something in your paperwork. And it's not uncommon for a courthouse to ask you to fill out a different version of a form or a new cover sheet required by that courthouse. Again, be sure to inquire about what sort of guarantee the online divorce service provides in the event your paperwork is rejected.
  8. Wait for the divorce to be finalized. The amount of time it takes a court to finalize a divorce varies wildly state to state. Depending on where you live, your divorce might be finalized within a month or two of filing, or it might take as long as a year. Some states have a mandatory waiting period before a judge can approve your divorce. For example, California requires a wait of six months after the petition is filed before the judge can finalize the divorce; Texas requires 60 days. The online divorce service you work with should be able to provide you with an estimate of how long it will take for your divorce to be final. Be sure to get a copy of the final divorce decree for your records.

Getting Started

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.