It was clear by about 1998 that every industry or individual business that could possibly 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, cost reduction and self-empowerment at one of the most stressful and vulnerable times in a person’s life.
Except, that didn’t happen. Below I tell you how and why.
And now, there is some hope that the many problems of online divorce in America can be remedied.
I wrote the world’s first complete uncontested divorce program (for California) in 1983-84.
The program worked initially on one personal computer. Pre-Internet, the program operator would manually type the client’s data from a snail-mailed questionnaire into the program’s input interface. When the data had been entered, each California Judicial Council divorce document had to be loaded manually, one side at a time, into a dot matrix printer and aligned. Then the operator hit the Enter button on the keyboard and the program would populate that single sided form with the necessary data.
A skilled operator could input an average case with children in 45-60 minutes. The case output, the printout, could be done in an average of 30-40 minutes. Bear in mind that there were far fewer California divorce documents in the 1980’s than there are now.
Later, I upgraded the program to work on a local network and to print fully prepared legal forms sequentially on an HP Laser Jet printer. The state legal doc and the client’s data were merged through HP printer commands and output onto one high-quality laser-printed doc. HP Laser Jet IID printers could tumble-print legal docs back-to-back so that, when printed, they were ready to be signed and filed at court.
By 1985-6, the case input still took 45-60 minutes. But a whole case could be printed in 2-3 minutes. Even that minimal output time was effectively zero as I and my staff would type in 10-20 cases, whatever the intake had been in that morning’s mail, make sure the 2 sequenced HP IID’s were loaded with paper and the last thing I did before I left the office was to hit the Enter button. When I returned in the morning, all cases were waiting, tumble-printed, perfect and ready to take to the Post Office to mail and to pick up that morning’s intake of new cases.
In 1989, I handled 5,580 California uncontested divorces. That’s an average of 15 a day for 365 days. In case you’re wondering, my competitors had no clue how I was able to beat them big time on price and get so many more cases than they had.
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 own 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 the consumer’s 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 represent only their members. Even when there is an alleged public duty, any benefit to the consumers served by lawyers is coincidental and in a distant second place in the Bar Association’s purpose. In short, the California Bar Association protected the interests of their lawyer members, not those of California consumers.
Here’s why. 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 many discussions with many lawyer-friends over many years, that there wasn’t enough work in an average uncontested divorce to justify the huge fees that were being charged. And here we were showing them how to reduce that workload even more – with the clients’ knowledge.
Remember the 45-60 minutes for input and the zero time for output on my pre-Internet divorce program? Well, in our online system the client would input her own personal data to an online divorce interview from the comfort of her home and in her own sweet time. So now, the time to be spent by the lawyer on data input had become zero and data output was still zero. The Bar guys figured that out immediately.
Traditional divorce lawyers already 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. And how could someone dis-prove that claim?
Traditional divorce lawyers have always padded their incomes from uncontested divorces by dishonestly creating unnecessary work. When the divorce 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, given certain facts existed in her case, and then to invite her to return later for further legal services should certain additional events actually occur, but not to worry about them if they did not occur.
If you have a headache, it might be brain cancer, but it probably isn’t. So you don’t hire a brain surgeon immediately. You take an aspirin. Then you monitor until other symptoms exist.
But divorce lawyers with big office rent to pay and BMW payments to make, did not want to wait for those future potential legal services on an as-needed basis. They wanted to generate that income NOW, and they could easily scare the client into getting it done 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 unnecessary orders, more hearings, requests for discovery, requests for more discovery, 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 to have to take even more actions – in the interests of his client, of course. You guessed it – more hearings, more requests for orders, etc.
When the lawyers run out of your money, they’ll wrap up the case in a heartbeat and tell you what a great job they had done, and how you could never have gotten such a good divorce decree without their professional judgment and expertise.
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 target uncontested divorce clients that he now doesn’t need to do all of that manual data-gathering and paperwork? 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 a valuable extension of California divorce practice. It should have been embraced, taken up and controlled by California lawyers. Instead, it was ignored – at great future 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 the US when all the other 50 Bar Associations (including DC) punted on online divorce, just like the California Bar?
Someone HAD to take advantage of all the online divorce money just waiting to be collected. 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 business with very little risk of being caught if you had no idea what you were doing. You could collect as much money as possible from the unsuspecting American divorce consumer and do the minimal amount of work for that money. No one could touch you.
Your County’s District Attorney’s Consumer 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.
Read my FBI complaint here.
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 American 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 fraud and incompetence.
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 clients 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 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 package. 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.
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 are way overpaying. You should not pay $1100-$3800 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.” You get no client support or document “review,” means proofreading. Nor does $99 get you the guarantee of court acceptance because they know you are highly likely to screw up. Remember. You don’t know what you are doing in a strange and 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 also – 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 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 your state’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.
American lawyers are just now beginning to offer online divorce services.
Approximately 90% of the non-lawyer online divorce industry is outrageously fraudulent or incompetent.
As a divorce consumer, while it is good to understand why 90% of the industry is to be avoided, your real goal right now is to find an online divorce provider in that other 10%. That’s what Online Divorce Reviews does for you.
Online Divorce Reviews is a free public service. Online Divorce Reviews provides you not only with reliable information about online divorce scams but also with education and insights that will enable you to do your own homework to avoid the more dangerous conmen in the online divorce industry.
Be sure to watch our video reviews and consult our the Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly lists at Online Divorce Reviews.