Divorce is never pleasant. Even so-called "friendly" divorces can cause varying degrees of anxiety. Some of that angst is baked into the traditional divorce process, which tends to be slow moving and costly. You can try to save money by going the do-it-yourself route, but you'll need to familiarize yourself with court rules, forms, and procedures—which can be daunting.
Fortunately, there's an alternative if you aren't comfortable going the full DIY route, and hiring an attorney is too heavy a financial lift. You might consider using an online divorce service.
An online divorce service is an internet-based company that guides you through the steps necessary to file for divorce. Typically, these companies will at the least provide you with the completed divorce complaint (sometimes called a "petition") and other forms your state requires to file and finalize a divorce, based on your answers to an online questionnaire.
The online divorce forms are drawn specifically for your state. Many of these companies will guarantee a refund if the court doesn't accept your forms.
Online divorce providers might offer services that go beyond just supplying the basic forms. Some will file the forms for you, but often for an additional fee. Some will also help you prepare a divorce settlement agreement (more on that below).
Just to be clear: Filing for divorce online doesn't mean the service provider will actually hand you a written divorce judgment. Only a judge can issue that. What the service will do is lead you to a point where you can confidently ask the court to sign a judgment of divorce.
With so many online divorce services out there today, make sure you check out their reliability in advance. Websites like Trustpilot and Investopedia can help, as can blogs that are dedicated to the divorce process. These blogs frequently contain comments from people who've used a particular online service.
In order to use online divorce service, you should have an uncontested divorce—meaning that you and your spouse have agreed about all the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Your agreements on these and any other relevant issues should be spelled out in a written divorce settlement agreement (sometimes called a "marital settlement agreement" or "property settlement agreement"), which ultimately will become a part of your divorce judgment.
If you want to use online divorce but haven't been able to agree with your spouse on some issues, you might try divorce mediation. A qualified mediator can be an immense help in getting you past the hurdles standing in the way of a meeting of the minds.
Even for couples with uncontested cases, online divorce might not be the best option in all situations. For instance:
Remember, once your divorce is finalized, you're going to have to live with the agreement that was incorporated in the divorce judgment. State laws do allow you to request changes in those provisions. But before a judge will grant a modification, you'll probably have to prove that the circumstances have changed substantially since your final divorce.
Standard procedure for using an online divorce service is to start by opening an account, which will require you to choose a password. Security on these sites is crucial, because you'll be providing a great deal of personal information required to complete the necessary court documents.
The website will then guide you through a series of questions, relating to items such as:
To save yourself some time—and also ensure that you've been thorough—it's a good idea to gather as much of your financial information as possible in advance, rather than having to hunt for it while you're working on the questionnaire.
After you've completed the questionnaire, the site will generate the necessary, completed forms, along with with instructions on where and how to file them.
Prices for an online divorce can vary quite a bit, generally running anywhere from $199 to $2,500, depending on the services the company is providing. Although the high end of that price range might seem a little steep, it's still far cheaper than the cost of divorce when you take the traditional, contested route involving attorneys and a trial. Also, the fact that you and your spouse can split the cost might lessen the sting a bit.
Some online divorce companies bill on a monthly basis, until the divorce is finalized. Others may charge a flat fee. The company's billing policy is usually available on its website.
The price of an online divorce service doesn't include court fees for filing your divorce paperwork (or the cost of serving the papers on your spouse if your state requires that and you have to use a process server). Filing fees vary from state to state, and sometimes from one county to another within the same state, ranging from less than $100 to more than $400.
Gathering the information you need to complete the questionnaire can be time consuming, depending on your financial situation and record keeping. Filling out the questionnaire itself usually takes only an hour or so.
However, once you've filed your paperwork, you'll be subject to the time periods set out in your state's divorce rules and regulations (as well as any court backlogs). Depending on your state, the time from when you file the divorce complaint to when the divorce is final can range from a matter of weeks to many months. Courts usually fast-track uncontested divorces, meaning you can avoid most—if not all—of the court appearances and other procedural matters associated with contested divorces. But some states have mandatory waiting periods before a judge may issue a final divorce judgment. In California, for example, divorces won't be final until at least six months after the divorce complaint is filed. So in terms of a timeline, you're at the mercy of your state's divorce laws.