This morning’s National Law Journal contains a must-read article for anyone interested in the availability online of interactive divorcing services. Titled, Online Divorce Services Spark Debate: Lawyers, providers split over pitfalls, it is written by Dee McAree (07/22/03, available without fee, with registration for free daily newsletter)., it is written by Dee McAree (07/22/03, available without fee, with registration for free daily newsletter).The article has links to existing online services, along with quotes from proponents and opponents. As McAree notes:
“On two of the most frequented online divorce sites — www.completecase.com and http://www.legalzoom.com/ — customers click on their state of residence, pay an average fee of $249 and submit to a series of questions about how they want to split their assets and, if applicable, custody of the kids.
“They print the documents or receive them by mail within 14 days.”
I have seen time and again that traditional uncontested divorces (using lawyers) can be beyond the financial reach of many low income Americans — resulting in separations that last for decades without any legal rights and responsibilities established, and precluding future re-marriage. Even the middle class quickly find that delays and legal expenses relating to divorcing using lawyers make the process immensely more stressful. This is especially true when attorneys find issues for contention and create animosities and suspicions that did not previously exist between the parties — who may have been emotionally hurting, but wanted to divorce in a manner that avoids customary ugliness and battles.
I support the existence of quality, online, interactive divorce materials for uncontested divorces. The notion raised by an opponent quoted in the article that any divorce that doesn’t reach trial is “uncontested” is rather unhelpful when trying to gauge the usefulness of the online uncontested divorce services.
Interactivity is an important element. Check out New York’s document-only version for an example of just how intimidating divorce forms can be (in complexity and number), when there is no interactivity. [There is no true no-fault divorce in New York State -- one party must assign blame to the other or they must both agree to a Separation Agreement and then abide by it for one year, before either can sue for a "conversion" divorce. Many lawyers turn the alternative process of creating a Separation Agreement between the spouses into a long, antagonizing and very expensive experience. Legions of couples who want to part amicably would be thrilled to know that a process exists that is less-hostile, quicker, cheaper and within their control.]
For two examples of court-related, state-specific, interactive programs, see the domestic relations services offered by Arizona’s Maricopa County and by the State of and by the State of Florida, which are discussed in our July 15th posting. Until such programs are available nationwide to all divorcing couples, lawyers should not be trying to deprive consumers of the option to use for-profit computerized websites. Instead, the profession should be working hard to help provide the funding and know-how needed to make high-quality, court-sponsored self-help centers available to all.
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