When it comes to “online divorce,” read the fine print

Divorce, News, Relationships

These days, the first place most Californians—along with everybody else—go when they’re considering divorce is the Internet. Swimming in a sea of unknowns, soon-to-be-exes are looking for answers and solutions to help them navigate the unavoidable emotional turmoil that comes with divorce.

If this is you, and you start with a simple search term like “uncontested divorce,” you are likely to get a mix of good and bad information, along with a slew of ads for various online divorce services. Try again with search terms like “simple divorce” or “quick divorce” and you will be faced with a multitude of options touting easy, fast, and cheap solutions.

As with many other promises in life, when a quick and easy option seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Devil in the details

Maybe a cheap and fast online divorce will deliver exactly what you need. If you’ve sorted through your situation enough to feel confident that you and your spouse want to avoid a trial by filing for uncontested divorce, you might fit the bill of someone that can use such a service successfully. But this is potentially a life changing decision, and definitely requires a closer, more careful look before you hand over your credit card. Just what does a purportedly cheap, fast, and easy divorce include?

Look at what the service really offers, and what you’re specifically hoping to accomplish. Do you need help figuring out what kind of divorce to file for in your State? Are you looking to avoid going to court, but still need help negotiating your settlement terms and navigating the multitude of required forms? Do you have questions around child custody and support?

Upon closer inspection, you will likely find most of these sites offer pretty much the same thing. There’s usually a lot of packaged hype around how easy it is to divorce in this fashion, with statements like, “Complete your uncontested divorce IN LESS THAN ONE HOUR!” You’ll also likely be implored to consider why you would spend money on a lawyer when you can do your divorce yourself so easily.

But what do you really get? In most cases, the answer is: the same divorce forms you can get for free from your local court, only now packaged up as a “service.” This might include some type of editing tool and questionnaire to assist you with filling your forms out, but you are essentially paying someone to fill out and print the same forms you can fill out and print for no cost at all (for the free versions, go here for the California divorce and separation form, and here for the California summary dissolution form).

“Customer support” isn’t real legal advice

These services also generally offer some type of “unlimited customer support” with a number you can call to speak with a “divorce specialist.” At first blush, you might assume that will get you some form of legal guidance. But it usually means there is a customer support person, not a lawyer, on the other end of the line.

If you are like many divorcing couples, even in an uncontested divorce, you would likely benefit from the advice or assistance of an attorney. Happily, there are options somewhere in between “fast, cheap, and easy” and “hiring an expensive lawyer.” You can choose from a number of fixed-fee uncontested divorce packages, or select a local family law attorney you’d like to work with from a lawyer directory service.

Yes, it costs more than the cheap online divorce offerings, but what you get in return is the advice or support of an actual lawyer through an often difficult and complex process. What it’s not is “too good to be true.”