People always ask about online divorce papers and flat fee services that offer cheap divorces. In these trying economic times, people are looking for the best ways to stretch their legal dollars. Who can blame them?
Like anything, there are pros and cons. The important question is whether this type of service is right for you and, then, if so, which is the best.
There are many online companies that offer online divorce papers. Many are state specific. Additionally, in New Jersey, we have companies who offer to handle divorces for as little as $300.00. In some cases, these services fill a very great need for people who can not otherwise afford an attorney but who desperately a divorce.
Some of the benefits of an online service are:
1. Reduced costs. Most of these services have a one-time, very small flat fee for the documents produced;
2. Expedited service; Hiring a law firm will normally entail completing questionnaires and other forms as well as forwarding information that the lawyers need to draft papers. Online services appear to do that all in one step. The client enters the information on a website and the papers are completed right then; and
3. Greater control over the information provided to the Court. Lawyers will draft the papers and provide the information they deem relevant and important. Sometimes, clients prefer not to give certain information and, in many cases, want to give MORE information than many attorneys are willing.
There are also many disadvantages to these services:
1. Generic documents. Many cases have unique issues but the papers can not be modified;
2. Uncertainty. If you fill out the wrong forms or provide the wrong information, you may be unable to obtain a divorce; and
3. No protection. Most people do not know what they are entitled to in a divorce and will lose many rights and protections without proper legal advice.
So, how do you know if these are right for you?
1. First, you need to look at the issues of your case. If you have a short-term marriage, with no assets or debts, and no children, these services may be perfect for you;
2. Couples who mediate. Families who utilize the services of a mediator may have resolved all of their issues before filing for divorce and all they need are simple divorce papers; and
3. Spouses who, regardless of the length of marriage, are not seeking distribution of assets or debts and do not need alimony.
The following cases, in this author’s opinion, should never utilize online divorce services. This list is NOT exhaustive. I am simply identifying the main cases that should not consider online divorce papers:
1. Victims of domestic violence. You do not need to have a restraining order to be a victim of domestic violence. Living with an abusive spouse makes you a victim. Victims of domestic violence often do not have equal bargaining power when negotiating with his/her abuser. New Jersey courts prohibit victims of domestic violence from being in a mediation session with his/her abuser;
2. Complicated or significant asset or debt issues. Cases in which one or both own businesses, have acquired significant assets or debts or where alimony is an issue. The amount of money involved in these issues usually warrants the employment of an attorney and it’s normally worth the investment; and
3. Custody disputes. Custody disputes have long-ranging effects on the children and the parents. One should not engage online divorce services if there is going to be any contested custody issues.
The best thing for anyone to do, before deciding to utilize online divorce papers or services is to seek a consultation with an attorney who concentrates in divorce and family law. Many lawyers offer consultations and will honestly tell you whether online divorce papers is a good route for you. We are not in business to represent any and every client who comes through our doors. It is not in our best interest to represent clients who are not interested or able to afford our fees.