For some time now, the internet has had a growing role in divorce. In fact, in 2011, it was estimated that nearly a third of all divorce filings contained the word "Facebook." While the internet has become an aggravating factor to many couple's unions, it's also emerging as a resource for those looking to dissolve their marriage. More and more frequently in New York courts, online divorce services are a factor in resolving a settlement.
It's easy to see why these online divorce services can be attractive. They promise hassle-free, affordable assistance to someone looking to dissolve their marriage. New York, which only in the past few years has caught up to other states' progressive divorce laws, is now struggling to keep up with properly defining and verifying online divorce services for couples looking to put marriage behind them.
Are Online Divorces Legal?
While they do offer some conveniences, there is no legally viable online resource that can independently achieve a divorce. Online divorce services, at least the types that have been found to be admissible in court, provide divorce forms, nothing more. These forms need to be properly filled to be valid under the law.
There are other online services that offer paperwork help, web references and resources, and consultations between a client and legal representatives. These examples, however, rely more on using the web as a communication avenue between a spouse and a legal service.
Who Should Use Online Divorces?
What should be noted first is that online divorce forms are only enforceable in uncontested divorces. That is divorces in which the filing and agreement are not opposed by either spouse. Even if your divorce is uncontested, there are other factors that should be present.
For example, the following should be reviewed:
- If the marriage was short-term
- If there are no shared assets or debts
- If there are no children
- If any disagreements have already been mediated
If all, or at least most of these factors are present in your marriage, then online divorce services may be advantageous to you. If not, it is highly recommended that you seek legal counsel before signing anything.
Advantages & Disadvantages
If you do happen to find yourself in a position where an online divorce service could provide legitimate documentation in court, there are still other advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Advantages to online divorces services include:
- Reduced cost and avoided fees
- Expedited service and procedure
- Greater control and flexibility over reporting responsibilities
Disadvantages to online divorces services include:
- Generic and invalid paperwork not admissible to court
- Narrow or incomplete scope of state divorce laws
- Loss of rights, properties, or protections not addressed in the documentation
Step by Step Practices for Online Divorce
After a review of many of the websites offering to provide online divorce services, procedural similarities can be found in the most reputable ones.
By and large, these sites require every customer to go through a basic three-step process:
- Step 1: Determining eligibility. Customer must answer basic questions determining if the site's services are applicable to their marriage. These address the state of residence, the location of the other spouse, the other spouse's willingness to sign, and other determining factors.
- Step 2: Marriage information. A customer submits information on both spouses, their residences, children, debts and assets, and any other information relevant to the marriage.
- Step 3: Obtaining completed documents. After the other steps are completed, and a fee is processed, a proper divorce document is generated and available to print for the customer. If there are any oversights in the document, these forms are usually amendable.
In the best case scenario, the filing spouse does need to file the online papers in person with a court clerk, but, if the documents are in order, the couple does not have to appear before a judge.
Complications of Online Divorce
While online divorce services will surely help some couples arrive at a swift and affordable dissolution of their marriage, online divorce services can also be a complicating factor for couples. Since these services have such ease and accessibility, many spouses don't realize the gravity of the decision to pursue of a divorce. The immediacy of these services can cause a spouse to act rashly and surrender significant rights to decisions, custody, or assets going forward. There have even been some cases in which half-completed online divorce services have negatively affected a future divorce negotiation.
This is why even in the face of these exciting new legal options that technology offers, the counsel of a knowledgeable New York City lawyer cannot be replaced. Even if you are contemplating using an online service to expedite your divorce, it is highly recommended that you seek proper legal counsel to make sure your rights are protected and your elected service and paperwork are legally valid.
If you are considering divorce and want more information on how online services can help or harm your efforts, contact a representative at Eiges & Orgel PLLC today!