Posted On: Monday, February 10, 2014
Just type “DIY divorce” into your favorite search engine, and you’ll see numerous ads claiming that “Doing Your Own MA Divorce is Easy,” and offering “Free DIY Divorce Forms.” Some ads even claim to offer a DIY divorce online. Touted as “Fast” and “Lawyer-Free,” many of these divorces are offered along with some version of a 100% guarantee.
According to these ads, not only are do-it-yourself divorces quick and easy, but the fees are more than reasonable, they are bargain basement low: $149, $159, $299 — lower than many divorce lawyers’ hourly rates. Sound too good to be true? You’re right.
There’s no such thing as an online Massachusetts divorce
So what do these sites actually offer? Perhaps it’s easier to start with what they don’t offer: an online divorce. The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts do not accept divorce paperwork or fees, nor do they grant divorces, online.
That said, some online divorce sites claim to offer free divorce forms – the paperwork that must be filled out and submitted in order to get the ball rolling. This, however, is something the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts offer online for free. No need for a middleman. (http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt/forms.html).
Should you use an online divorce document preparation service?
While a more cynical reader would expect a lawyer to answer in the negative, the basis of such response — which is, in fact, “no” — may be surprising. Sure, a Massachusetts divorce attorney would be loathe to turn away a potential client, but the reason not to use such service is because it is unnecessary. You can do the same thing yourself, for free. (Remember, we’re talking about filling out forms, not obtaining divorce advice specific to your situation by a seasoned divorce attorney…and there’s the plug.)
What most such sites offer is “completed forms ready for filing.” In other words, they offer divorce document preparation. You simply enter responses to some basic questions (name, address, place of marriage), pay the bargain basement fee online via credit card, and presumably receive fully completed forms, ready for you to file. The alternative would be for you to pull up the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court’s readily available, free online forms, enter responses to some basic questions, and print the fully completed forms, ready for you to file. Either way, you will have to file the forms yourself.
To the extent that the sites claim to have the ability to select the correct forms for you, remember, it’s a computer program, which is no substitute for professional advice or diligent research on your part. If you’re going to handle your own divorce, you need to be familiar with the documents you file and reasons for filing them.
There’s no guarantee for a “quick” or “easy” divorce
Divorce is a process, and while filing the initial forms will begin the process, the filing itself will not automatically result in a divorce. The speed at which a case advances through the court system, and the level of difficulty, depends upon the facts of your case and the people involved. If you’re dealing with a difficult spouse, you can bet your divorce will not be “quick” nor “easy”, regardless of who completes the forms.
In other words, once you’ve arrived at the stage of knowing what type of divorce you intend to file (contested, uncontested) on what grounds (irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, cruel and abusive treatment), you can fill out the forms yourself, for free.
The real question is whether a DIY divorce is right for you
The key to a DIY divorce, then, is not the document preparation. The real question is whether a DIY Divorce is right for you, and the answer is, it depends. It’s possible that if you and spouse agree on what to do with your property and how to care for your children, and your spouse will agree to sign the divorce paperwork, then, maybe. Then again, maybe not. See my upcoming post for some considerations and tips to help you decide whether to go it alone, or hire a lawyer.