How To File For Divorce Without a Lawyer in California

Once you have made the difficult personal decision to terminate your marriage or domestic partnership in California, action will be necessary at some time.

Amid the anxieties, emotions, fears for the effects of divorce on any children of the marriage and self-protective thoughts about your property and income, the first practical hurdle you will face is how to get the actual divorce done – the paperwork, the filing, the process.

First, do you want to file for divorce without a lawyer in California? Until about 2017, if you had most types of uncontested divorce, you would definitely want to file for divorce without a lawyer in California. That would be true on a cost reduction basis only.

But the divorce industry continues to evolve and provide more choices to the California divorce consumer. There is a new trend among more competitive California divorce lawyers, particularly since C-19.  You may now want to take advantage of that “best of both worlds” trend at a very competitive fee.

We’ll lay out the considerations below and advise about the new trend that could change what would have been your easy pre-2017 decision to file for divorce without a lawyer in California.

Used To Be That You Could NOT File For Divorce Without a Lawyer in California

40+ years ago, there was no choice. There were no alternatives to divorce lawyers, and the lawyer-controlled divorce system was heavily stacked against the possibility of your acting as your own lawyer in your own divorce case, no matter how simple the case might have been.

At that time, lawyers had an effective monopoly on divorce. Divorce was how young lawyers survived the first few years of practice (and we do mean, “practice”). Divorce work was almost always easy for lawyers in those days – because they got ALL cases, the few contested ones and the mass of uncontested ones.

Additionally, the profession’s monopoly ensured a breathtaking level of lawyers’ fees in exchange for the easy work. Divorce was the bar’s cash cow.

Online Divorce Made It Highly Desirable To File For Divorce Without a Lawyer in California

In partnership with a Los Angeles company, NetDivorce, LLC put up the world’s first working online divorce website at divorceweb.com in March, 1999. Netdivorce.com was not far behind.

From the beginning, online divorce was convenient, low-cost and empowering to the consumer. It inevitably moved the bulk of uncontested divorces away from traditional divorce lawyers, who were clueless about online divorce and had no marketing response to online divorce’s control of uncontested divorces (almost 80% of the divorce market).

Online divorce gave options to the California divorce consumer when there had previously been none.  And divorce lawyers failed to recognize the potential of online divorce. They ignored it until very recently. So online divorce was a great advancement.

Low cost and lawyers were so dumb they stayed away from it. 

Online Divorce Has Always Been a Wise Choice For Uncontested Divorce

Why would California divorce consumers risk over-spending by hiring an unnecessary traditional full-representation divorce lawyer in an uncontested case when online divorce was available?

If you and your spouse can make your own decisions about your family and property and you’re not going to be legally disputing any issues in the divorce or the divorce itself, then subject to a few tips and warnings (see below), while divorce is full of tough choices, this isn’t one of them.

If You Have an Uncontested Divorce, File For Divorce Without a Lawyer in California

Following is NetDivorce’s advice to the California divorce consumer about whether or not to hire a lawyer or a non-lawyer to handle your divorce.

It is based upon observations from our first 40 years of experience in very high-volume, low-cost, non-lawyer, California retail divorce (both in bricks-and-mortar, with California Legal Assistance Centers between 1981 and 2001, and now with NetDivorce, LLC, from 1999 to present).

If you can make it to the end of the following list, you should probably hire a non-lawyer to handle your case.

  • If any aspect of your case will be contested between you and your spouse, you need a lawyer – end of discussion. This means ANY aspect of your case, including the divorce itself. And it means any level of dispute. Even if your spouse claims that black is white, you need a lawyer. This consideration doesn’t address cost at all, and we fully understand that you may not be able to afford a lawyer. You still need one! Further, if you or your spouse continues with the divorce process when contested issues exist, a spouse who does not have a lawyer will be exposed legally in some way. That spouse will likely suffer to some extent in the future as a direct result of not having a lawyer, particularly if the other spouse does have a lawyer. The first spouse to break down and hire a lawyer generally wins on all contested issues.
  • If you have a large marital estate – you own a lot of stuff – you need a lawyer to safeguard your interests in that property. That’s because there are inevitably property, tax, trust, income, capital gains, inheritance, insurance, etc. considerations connected to valuable assets. These issues are often not considered, even by the owners of valuable property, during times of stress. A lawyer will not be stressed and will consider these issues on your behalf and safeguard you through advice and ancillary action. The non-lawyer will generally not even know of the existence of these numerous considerations that are inevitable and generally exist proportionally to the value of your marital estate. What is a large marital estate? There is no hard and fast rule. If you suspect that your marital estate is large, it almost certainly is. If pushed, I would set the limit at something like $5 million of NET marital estate value. If most of your estate is real property or retirement plans and you are in complete agreement on all issues, then I would stretch that limit higher. But don’t forget that if your marital estate is $200 and you’re arguing about it, then you’re back to the first tip above.
  • If you have an interest in an ongoing business, whether a corporation, LLC, partnership or an unincorporated dba-style business, and you and your spouse are not going to assign the entire ownership of the business, including all assets and income, to one of you alone, you need a lawyer – in fact, your divorce lawyer may need to hire a business lawyer.
  • If you have a special needs child of the marriage who will require adult child support and perhaps lifelong care, you need a lawyer to set up appropriate trusts within your divorce.
  • If you have specialized or unusual medical, tax, trust, insurance, employment, retirement or business issues that will outlive the short divorce process, you need a lawyer.
  • This is a tough one, but this tip is sound and may be the most important listed here. If there is violence or a realistic possibility of violence or if there is fear of child abduction, you need a lawyer. Again, I understand the costs associated. Yet what cost your health and safety or that of a child?

The above is a non-exhaustive  list of when you definitely should hire a traditional lawyer on a full-representation basis. If you can think of another situation that fits the mold of those above, hire a traditional lawyer.

If you’ve made it cleanly through the above list, you should seriously consider hiring a non-lawyer to handle your case.

You will save a lot of money, which can be better spent elsewhere. If you do hire a non-lawyer, exercise higher than normal caution. Find an experienced provider.

Keep a body on them. Know that your ultimate protection against fraud is the Consumer Fraud Division of your local District Attorney’s Office. Therefore, hiring a provider outside the US would be dangerous. That rules out onlinedivorce.com (Ukraine), getdivorcepapers.com (India) and onlinedivorcer.com (Czech Republic). 

Non-lawyer divorce providers are cheap alternatives to divorce lawyers. However, they are not substitutes for a traditional divorce lawyer if you need one.

Regardless of whether you hire a lawyer or non-lawyer to handle your divorce case, you should remember that you are the ultimately responsible person for your own future and that of any children. Even if your lawyer or non-lawyer provider does a fine job, s/he still walks away after a few months (probably less). You stay – with the consequences of the divorce, both good and bad. Never forget that you are always responsible for decisions affecting your own life, whether you want to be or not.

But Now – Online Divorce Lawyer – Now How To File For Divorce WITH a Lawyer in California

Until late 2017, this article stopped above. There was nothing else to say. End of discussion.

However, in late 2017, the founder and CEO of NetDivorce, LLC launched Online Divorce Lawyer, a suite of online tools, including the wicked-cool and bulletproof NetDivorce software, and including marketing and case organization an dtracking tools, that enabled competitive, creative and business-savvy California divorce lawyers to offer for the first time a Best of Both Worlds option to long-suffering California divorce consumers.

Online Divorce Lawyer became a Best of Both Worlds option to non-lawyer online divorce – the low cost, convenience and empowerment of online divorce PLUS the safety and security of a local California licensed lawyer on your team should the case blow up or should you need extra legal services.

For the first time, California divorce consumers can know the flat fee up front and use the lawyer only where the lawyer is needed.  There is no huge retainer and the billable hour nonsense.

It took us a while to get California lawyers interested in this. They are generally not too swift when it comes to new services.  But we have now, as of this update, become fully subscribed throughout all of California.

While all Online Divorce Lawyers are independently owned and operated, most offer basic unbundled document preparation and review  packages at $700-$1000.

You have an option.  If you are interested, go to Online Divorce Lawyer or call 1-800-DIVORCE to be connected to the Online Divorce Lawyer closest to you.

How To File For Divorce Without a Lawyer in California

 

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