It was clear by about 1998 that any industry or individual business that could go online would do so.
It was crystal clear to those of us in the divorce programming industry that online divorce would be a major benefit for uncontested divorce consumers in terms of convenience and cost reduction at one of the most stressful and vulnerable times in a person’s life.
I wrote the world’s first complete uncontested divorce program (for California) back in 1983-84.
For techies, that program was written in Ashton-Tate’s dBase 2.0. The program worked initially on one personal computer running the CPM operating system. The program was on a 5″ floppy in drive A and the database was on the 5″ floppy in drive B.
The operator had to enter the client’s data manually into an on-screen “interview.” You then had to load pre-printed California Judicial Council forms into a dot matrix printer one page at a time and hit the return button to print the client’s data onto that single page. You then had to repeat for every copy of every page of each legal document in the case.
Later, I upgraded the program to work on a Local Area Network and to print fully prepared forms sequentially on an HP Laser Jet IID printer. The legal doc and the client’s data were merged through HP printer commands and printed into one high-quality laser-printed doc. A whole case could be printed in 2-3 minutes. HP Laser Jet IID printers could tumble-print legal docs back-to-back so that they were ready to sign and file. I eventually had the program running on 5 computers and 2 HP printers in my office.
In 1998, while I was teaching myself online programming in order to upgrade my pre-internet divorce program, I was approached by a Los Angeles company to consult on their online divorce program. We eventually formed a partnership, and in joint venture, we put up the world’s first online divorce site at divorceweb.com in March 1999.
They wanted the program to be downloadable to a local PC – so that the end user would have to re-download the program to his PC every time we upgraded it. I wanted the program to be entirely cloud-based so that we controlled constant upgrading more efficiently and without constant consumer downloads. The consumer would simply log in and be good to go. The partnership didn’t last, but I was already upgrading my original pre-Internet program, which I had always upgraded continuously for 16 years, to the web.
My partners and I presented our online divorce system to two gentlemen from the California State Bar Association at its annual meeting at the San Diego Convention Center in summer, 1999.
The two Bar guys were unimpressed. We heard nothing back from the Bar.
I first thought that they had failed to see the potential of online divorce, but I later figured it out. They saw the potential better than we had.
Bar Associations, like all union-style organizations, represent only their members. Even when that union has an alleged public duty, any benefit to the consumers served by their members is coincidental and in a distant second place in the union’s analysis and purpose. In short, the California Bar Association protected the interests of their lawyer members and screwed the divorce consumer.
The Bar guys, and the Bar guys to whom they reported back in Sacramento, all knew that many lawyers paid their rent with the income from their divorce work, mostly from uncontested divorce.
They also knew, as I did from discussions with many lawyer-friends, that there wasn’t enough work in an average uncontested divorce to justify the fees that were being charged. And here we were showing them how to reduce that workload even more with online divorce software.
Traditional divorce lawyers had to manufacture unnecessary busy work in uncontested cases in order to justify the higher fees they had been charging traditionally for a very long time. They all did that. No one broke ranks or even spoke about this dirty little secret.
If ever challenged or questioned, those traditional divorce lawyers would tell you that they had proceeded in those uncontested divorces out of an abundance of professional caution and in the best interests of their clients. Entirely dishonest, but who could argue with them? You could not dis-prove what they claimed.
Traditional divorce lawyers have always padded their incomes from uncontested divorces by dishonestly creating unnecessary work. When the consumer is in an unknown environment and the emotions and natural fears associated with every divorce are present, it is easy for a dishonest lawyer to scare the crap out of a divorce client about things that MIGHT happen in her divorce.
The honest and professional way to handle what MIGHT happen in an uncontested divorce is to advise the client of the possibility and invite her to return later for further legal services should certain events occur, but not to worry about them if they did not occur. If you have a headache, it might be brain cancer, but you don’t immediately jump into a brain operation until certain other factors exist.
But divorce lawyers with rent to pay and BMW payments to make, would not wait for those future legal services when they could scare the client into getting them done and paid for right now.
As a result of this uncontested divorce churning game, the unscrupulous lawyer pads his current uncontested divorce fees with unnecessary court hearings, adjournments, requests for orders, more hearings, requests for discovery, requests for more discovery (because you never know what the other side might be doing), and then more hearings and adjournments.
In doing this dance, your divorce lawyer would be so provocative and antagonistic to the other side that he will practically compel your spouse to get his own lawyer. Then the real fun begins. Then both lawyers will do their dishonest dance with each lawyer allegedly causing the other in turn to have to take action in the interests of his client, of course – you guessed it, more hearings, more requests for orders, etc.
And on and on it goes. When the lawyers run out of your money, they’ll wrap up the case and tell you what a great job they did, and how you could never have gotten such a good divorce decree without their professional judgment and expertise. And who can dis-prove that claim?
Try to imagine where online divorce could possibly fit into that traditional uncontested divorce charade. What traditional divorce lawyer will advertise the fact to his uncontested divorce client that he now doesn’t need to do all of that data-gathering and paperwork manually? Rent still has to be paid.
So the 2 Bar Guys saw the writing on the wall. They reported back to their bosses in Sacramento, and online divorce was buried as an extension of divorce practice. It should have been embraced, taken up and controlled by California lawyers. Instead, it was ignored – at great cost to the divorce consumer.
In the UK, where I’ve been a lawyer for over 40 years (called to the Bar at age 21, the earliest age possible), the Bar Association and Law Council saw the potential and controlled online divorce through their members’ participation in the industry from the very beginning.
That enabled common sense regulation to flow through the Bar into the online divorce industry for the protection of UK divorce consumers.
Since September, 2021, all divorce in the UK is required to be online divorce. And all UK online divorce is handled by UK barristers and solicitors. The public is protected. There is no fraud or incompetence or misleading business practices in UK online divorce.
There are also thriving online divorce lawyer industries in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
What happened in Nevada when all the other 50 Bar Associations (including DC) punted on online divorce, just like the California Bar?
Predictably, the worst kind of conmen rushed into the brand new online divorce industry to fill the vacuum created by Bar Association’s dereliction of its duty to protect the public.
Some of those conmen were from India, Dubai, Ukraine and Mexico. They recognized correctly that the Internet had opened up a huge source of US online divorce fraud income with very little risk of being caught – even if you were dishonest and did absolutely nothing for the money you charged unsuspecting American divorce consumers.
Clark County’s District Attorney’s Criminal Fraud Division will be unlikely to have any interest in a fraudulent online divorce provider in another state. Interstate fraud is for the FBI.
And the FBI won’t go after frauds in India, Ukraine and Mexico.
In fact, the FBI is not interested in protecting the interests of US divorce consumers against fraud by an online divorce provider based in California!
On January 30, 2015, I filed with the FBI Internet Crime Division a complaint they assigned complaint ID I1501301241468482. Read it below.
This complaint was a slam-dunk that proved that an Orange County, California online divorce provider called My Divorce Papers was advertising on its site that it had thousands of genuine client testimonials certified by a company called Certified Comments.
My complaint and the evidence it contained showed, beyond any reasonable doubt, that both My Divorce Papers and Certified Comments were owned and operated by the same person and were hosted on the same Internet server. It also showed that My Divorce Papers was the only customer of Certified Comments.
Needless to say, I never heard anything back from the FBI and to the date of this publication in 2022, My Divorce Papers continues to advertise that it has 3,595 genuine client testimonials – all certified by Certified Comments.
Since 2015, how many US divorce consumers have been suckered into My Divorce Papers on the basis of all of those alleged real certified testimonials and have been harmed by My Divorce Papers and its F-rating and dozens of consumer complaints at the Better Business Bureau. The FBI will never know. Or care. Here’s my FBI complaint:
Fast forward 20+ years from the beginning of online divorce and the Bar Associations are just now beginning, just beginning, to open their minds to the advantages of online divorce in uncontested divorce. C-19 has helped in this regard because many small divorce law practices are going out of business as a result of the pandemic and traditional lawyers are suddenly beginning to look for new sources of business and competitive advantages. C-19 has forced traditional lawyers to be more honest.
But many problems remain from the Bar Associations’ original failure to act to protect the Nevada divorce consumer.
I will highlight only 2 of those problems below. However, do see our video reviews for proof regarding many other examples of online divorce frauds and incompetencies.
American consumers of all types of services are accustomed to being told, in most situations where a finite and known amount of work will be done, what the exact price will be up front. They are unaccustomed to having to search for hidden fees. Foreign conmen know this.
The up-front fees of these conmen are shown prominently on their websites and are often accompanied by phrases such as “no hidden fees” and “complete divorce package.” That naturally makes consumers think reasonably that the $139 or $169 fee is the total price. It’s not.
So even though you are led to believe that the $139 or $169 fee is a complete fee for a complete service, you cannot know how much your online divorce will cost. They do not disclose the extra monthly amounts. In fact, they tell you that those extra monthly amounts are subject to change. They can charge you whatever they want, and you have agreed to it in advance.
If you hire a provider with hidden and undisclosed monthly fees that are also subject to change – without your knowledge or consent, you have signed a blank check for your online divorce. You have no idea what it will cost you.
This is a less frequent problem, but it’s becoming more common. At this writing, there are three prominent online divorce providers using teaser fees.
Teaser fees exist when anyone tricks you into hiring them for a very low fee when they are aware and believe that realistically, many, most or all of those customers cannot accomplish their goals with the teaser fee package and will need to pay higher fees to get what they want – often much higher. A good indication of the existence of teaser fees is when the teaser fee is MUCH lower than the next higher fee on the price list.
Teaser fees are probably not a criminal fraud, as the hidden monthly fees certainly are, because the teaser fee, the much higher fees and the terms and services that apply to each fee level are fully disclosed on the provider’s pricing pages.
However, teaser fees are certainly misleading and unfair to the divorce consumer because the online divorce service does not provide a realistic idea of the adequacy of the teaser fee. They simply say nothing about your chances of success with the teaser fee. They allow you to think that the teaser fee is all you will need to pay – because that’s what you naturally and reasonably think.
Accordingly, the consumer has no realistic or reliable way to know in advance that the teaser fee is a trap that could lead to much larger fees even if the consumer does absolutely nothing wrong in her divorce and her case proceeds exactly as she stated it would.
If the consumer was told that she had a 20% chance of success (or whatever percentage is realistic) by paying the teaser fee, she would at least have all of the necessary info to make a decision, and would likely decide to go elsewhere and pay a non-teaser fee that is much less than the second highest price at the teaser fee company.
An example will illustrate. The most prominent online divorce provider that uses a teaser fee has flat fee packages of $99, $1100, $2500 and $3800. The fees, packages and what’s included in each are clearly laid out and easy to understand.
Bear in mind that the larger fees for the three more expensive packages are NOT lawyer fees. They are non-lawyer fees. No lawyer will look at your case for those larger fees paid to the non-lawyer provider.
So the three larger fees are not good deals. You should not pay such large fees to non-lawyers for online divorce services in your uncontested divorce.
If you have an uncontested California divorce, you can actually hire a lawyer to do your whole case online at Online Divorce Lawyer for $695 or $995. Other states have similar online divorce lawyer services available. Just Google, “online divorce lawyer [name of your town].”
The whole point of using online divorce is to cut the cost, NOT to pay traditional lawyer fees to non-lawyers for non-lawyer services.
A consumer might wonder why the HUGE difference between the $99 fee and the $1100 fee. That seems suspicious, and it is!
For $99, you get to use their software to enter your data and download your completed legal forms, but you get no client support and no one checks your legal docs for completeness, accuracy or correctness. So you cannot ask questions, and in divorce, you WILL have questions.
The $99 package includes, “software” and “instructions on how to file and serve.” That’s it.
The $1100 package includes, “Our software + pro help during your divorce,” “We review, file & serve all your forms” and “Guaranteed court acceptance.”
$99 provides no “pro help.” That means no client support. $99 also provides no document “review.” That means no proofreading of your completed documents. Nor does $99 get you the “guarantee of court acceptance.” That’s because they know you are highly likely to screw up. Remember. You don’t know what you are doing in a highly complex process.
So $99 gets you the prepared forms, but you don’t know if they are accurate because no divorce expert proofreads them. And I’m not talking about whether things are spelled correctly. I’m talking about the fact that every legal document has at least one interpretation that could go either way. As a layman, the consumer has no idea which is the correct interpretation, and she has no one to ask and no one to check the docs before she files them at court.
If she guesses wrong, her docs just get rejected by the court. She may be able to recover, after a relatively short delay, by simply using the other interpretation of that particular form.
So I’m not saying that it is impossible to accomplish your goal with that teaser fee package. I’m saying that you don’t know how possible it is. Also, it is likely less possible than you think because most people are naturally too optimistic about their chances. It’s a crapshoot.
And you can’t ask anyone at the teaser fee company, because guess what. They are betting against you . They want that $1100 fee. Remember – that $99 is designed only to get you in the door.
So what do you do? You’ve paid the $99, kept your mouth shut, done your best and screwed up your case. Your choice now is either to send good money after bad by paying the $1100 to a company that sat back, smiled and knowingly watched you screw your case into the ground or you go elsewhere and start over and throw away that $99. That’s a tough choice you don’t need to make at this vulnerable point in your life. Teaser fees and the dishonest companies that offer them are not your friends.
You have not been well served by Nevada’s Bar Association and its lawyer members for over 20 years with regards to the availability of inexpensive online divorce lawyer services in uncontested divorce.
While things are getting better slowly, you must still protect yourself in an unfriendly and unregulated online divorce industry.
Online Divorce Reviews seeks to provide you with not only reliable information about online divorce scams but also education that will enable you to do your own homework to assist you to weed out the more dangerous conmen in the online divorce industry.
We at Online Divorce Reviews also continue to hope that American Bar Associations will wake up and encourage their members to embrace online divorce by lawyers, as their counterparts in the UK and around the world have done. That would effectively cut down on the legal and financial harm done to American divorce consumers as a consequence of the Bar Associations’ negligence and dereliction of duty across the past 20+ years.