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Many people believe that there is something called an “online divorce.” They think that, if they go online, they can file some papers somewhere and get divorced. But here is the truth: There is no such thing as a true ‘on-line’ divorce … at least not now.

Sad business woman holding a "Help" sign as she sits at her computer.

What is “Online Divorce?”

What most people refer to as an “On-line Divorce” is usually online document production. That means you go online and pay a fee for a web-based service to draft your divorce documents for you.

“Online divorce” does NOT mean that you can go to some website, fill out a questionnaire, pay a fee, and you will be divorced. It would be great if life was that easy but, that’s just not the way things work. (At least, its not the way things work right now.)

Can You Get a Legal Divorce Online?

Marriage is a legal contract. The only way you can get married is if someone who is legally authorized to marry you (like a priest, a rabbi, a minister, or a judge) marries you. Divorce is the end of a legal contract. The only way you can get divorced is if someone who is legally authorized to divorce you (a judge) divorces you.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to have to litigate your divorce in court. You can still use divorce mediation or divorce negotiation to settle your case. You can then have the documents memorializing that agreement done by an online service.

Even if you choose to use an online document production service to prepare your divorce papers, though, you are still going to have to take those documents to court, file them, and walk them through the court process yourself. You are also probably going to need to fill out court documents that the online service did not prepare for you. Most of those documents will be simple court forms. But, if you don’t have all of the right forms completed and ready to hand to the judge when you get divorced, you are going to have to come to court another time and try again.

Close up of a laptop keyboard and screenThe Pros and Cons of Online Divorce

Online document production is not a horrible alternative. If you have a short marriage, no real estate, no children and you’re not splitting any retirement plans, doing your documents on line may not hurt you. The documents that are produced on line might not be perfect, but they may be good enough to get you through the system.

If you have children, if you have assets, if you have joint debts, if you are dividing retirement accounts, or if your case is even the slightest bit complicated, trying to do your own documents online is generally a really bad idea. You may think that a judge will correct your paperwork for you, but that is not a judge’s job. Most judges won’t do it. So if your paperwork is wrong, it’s just wrong – and you may not be able to fix it later.

The bottom line is: if there is any way you can consult with a divorce lawyer before you get divorced, you should.  Sure, no one likes to spend the money. But you will spend much more money hiring a lawyer to try to fix your mistakes than you would have to hire a lawyer to do your documents right the first time.

Using a Lawyer to Review Your Online Documents

You may wonder whether you can hire a lawyer to just review your online documents and make sure they are okay. You can. The problem is that, unless those documents are done 100% correctly, the lawyer is going to tell you to re-do them. Since it is unlikely that you can go back to your online service and have them custom-make all the changes you want, you are either going to end up knowing the documents are inaccurate, using them anyway, and hoping for the best, or you are going to have to pitch them entirely and hire a lawyer to do them all over again.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t hire a lawyer to give you legal advice if you are going to try to prepare your divorce documents yourself. You absolutely should consult with a lawyer before you get divorced, no matter how you choose to go through the divorce process. To be most effective, though, you should talk with a lawyer before you even start to negotiate your divorce.

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