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Divorce Goes Digital

The first time I thought about asking my husband Dan for a divorce, our newborn son was in my arms. Chalking it up to postpartum disillusionment and pure exhaustion worked for a while—but by the time our daughter was born a couple of years later, the question was a near constant in my mind. So I put it to friends, my mother, therapists, Google—even Dan himself. But everyone’s idea of marriage is different. No one seemed to have a truly satisfying answer for me. Plus, I could never quite solve for this X factor: Am I inherently discontent overall, or just unhappy in this particular marriage?

One thing was certain—our union was not what I’d hoped for. Dan insisted my expectations were unreasonable. Everyone else was vague or pointed out better or worse marriages for comparison.

Then my sister died. Shocked, devastated, brokenhearted, I leaned on loved ones to understand the depth of my loss and give me strength. When the dust cleared a little, I couldn’t help but face the fact that Dan had not been part of that inner circle. I asked him if he wanted to talk about the state of our marriage—he didn’t. And there it was. I had my answer. After nearly two decades of deliberating, I decided: Marriage takes two. And as it turns out, so does divorce.

The Beginning of the End

Once upon a time, splitting up seemed synonymous with sky-high lawyer bills for endless hours of consultations and courtroom battles. These days there are more ways than ever to avoid both. According to California lawyer and mediator Emily Doskow, author of Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce, options vary and can depend on a wide variety of factors, including length of the union, individual and joint assets, potential future earnings, kids—and frankly, whether both parties are willing to come to the table ready to talk details of dissolution. Divorces where both parties are calm and prepared to negotiate a fair resolution can be not only less painful but much less expensive, says Doskow. Even though I was angry and hurt, I knew I didn’t want to burn through hard-earned money paying lawyers to do what we could do for ourselves. In other words, instead of lobbing hostile and perhaps sometimes booze-fueled emails back and forth, we had to take it down a notch or two (three? four?) and work together.

For Divorce, Click Here

As is my norm, I looked online for advice and tools. We weren’t ready to negotiate face-to-face, but perhaps there was a Web-based way to streamline things, similar to how I’ve come to deal with tasks including tax prep and grocery shopping. Several sites, including Rocket Lawyer, 3StepDivorce and LegalZoom.com, will help with preparing legal documents to file with the court, but we weren’t ready for that.

First, we had to come up with a plan for our kids, money and stuff. Wevorce, an online divorce service that boasts a 98% settlement rate, claimed it could help us with that, plus offer referrals to lawyers, accountants, financial advisors and counselors if we needed help beyond its standard interview process. After reading and rereading the free materials for weeks, I bit the bullet and paid the $749 fee.

After that, moving the process forward got easier. I found myself doing so in tiny increments, often with a glass of wine in hand. At the beginning, all I had to tackle was reading—about both my decision to divorce and my options. I picked up some tips on active listening and on how to frame conversations about this massive change with our kids. To my relief, I stopped dwelling on my disappointment and started focusing on the future.

Wevorce invited Dan to join the process and messaged me when he did. As time went on, our interactions mellowed. I noticed him, in his no-longer-hostile emails, trending the same as me: focusing on the kids’ needs, tallying up property and finances, and looking for the horizon.

Full Disclosure

When it came time to plan, we first detailed how we hoped to share parenting and custody. Next Wevorce asked a series of questions about bank accounts, property and investments. We answered defensively. Almost as if it expected these cyber reactions, Wevorce offered more reading material. And then a funny thing happened—we realized that although we were both still angry, we both wanted the outcome to be fair.

I also realized we needed answers to certain specific legal, tax and financial questions. With one click, Wevorce sent me a list of experts willing to offer an hour on the phone for a $149 flat fee. I picked a lawyer based on a short description of her practice and emailed a detailed message. The next day someone from Wevorce called. “I would be happy to set up a call with the attorney you chose,” she told me. “But based on your questions, I would like to suggest someone else who specializes in the potential tax issues you have.” A day later I talked to a pro who had already read through all our background info and comments and was ready with solid advice on how to proceed. In less than an hour, she cleared up my confusion. Now it was time to sit down with Dan and talk.

Having hardly spoken face-to-face since the early rounds of email, we planned a meetup. Dan and I were able to chat about the kids and spent maybe 15 minutes sorting out tax-related decisions. Clearly, we had turned a corner.

Dissolution, Resolution

For weeks there was nothing left to do in my Wevorce account except hit the “Submit” button. Doing so would trigger someone at Wevorce to go over the Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) we had created by answering all their questions and turn it into filled-out forms, ready to file with the courts. The button loomed large when I logged in to look at it, sometimes imagining us both staring at it in our respective homes.

Then one day I texted Dan, “Should I submit our divorce?” “Sure,” he replied. “Why not?”

I reminded myself that the world wasn’t ending. Nothing is exploding. Neither of us is dying. We each know where the other lives and have each other’s phone number. It was time. I hit “Submit.”

A few days later we received an email saying that our official forms and our final MSA were ready for us to read over. We are both editors, so naturally we both made changes. Revised documents and a new MSA soon followed, with directions on how to file everything with the court.

We spent a total of $898 at Wevorce. (Court filing fees were additional.) The process, from initial sign-up to ready-to-file divorce papers, took three months. I never met with a lawyer or saw the inside of a courtroom. It was pretty easy in the scheme of things.

Meanwhile, the clock is slowly but surely running down on our home state of California’s mandatory six-month cooling-off period. Wevorce still periodically offers me reading material about grieving my divorce, moving forward and planning for the future. I feel like I’m rising from the ashes.

Wevorce founder Michelle Crosby says she built this platform because her parents’ contentious divorce scarred her as a kid, and she dreamed of coming up with a better way. To her, I have just one thing to say: Thanks. A lot.

And Now, a Word from the Husband: Dan Weighs In

Last July I was sitting in my home office (better known as my kitchen) when my cell phone buzzed. It was a text from my soon-to-be-ex wife Christina. Would I meet her for lunch? There was something important she needed to discuss.

By this point our relationship was cordial but definitely not warm. Twenty years of marriage is a lot of water under the bridge, and it was still a little choppy. We met on neutral territory, a pizza joint midway between our now-separate domiciles.

After some chatter about work and our kids, Christina got to the point. She had sold a story about digital divorce to Family Circle and needed my help.

I thought, why not? Together and separately, we had been writing about our kids for FC more or less since they emerged from the womb. I wrote about the Facebook wars I had with our son when he was 13. She wrote about our daughter’s budding skills as a photographer. We covered off-the-grid vacations. There’s even an adorable photo of them at ages 5 and 3 in some early 2000s issue. Getting divorced in these pages somehow seemed fitting.

When she suggested we use Wevorce, I smiled ruefully. Months earlier my proposal to use this very site had been swiftly rebuffed—probably because it was my idea. Now she was fully on board. And because I thought it would save us thousands of dollars on lawyers, so was I.

Once I created my account, it was time to dig in. The process began with several hours of reading essays assuring me I’d survive this ordeal and come out a better person. This was followed by a grueling series of questionnaires about our goals for the divorce and how we wanted to raise the kids, as well as our assets, debts, income, expenses and how we planned to separate all of that. It took days to gather the necessary info, and by the end I was exhausted.

Every questionnaire had a place to leave comments for the people preparing the final documents. My wife filled out these forms first, and I discovered she was using these spaces to complain about me, as if  Wevorce were some kind of robotic marriage counselor. So I used them to present my side of the story. I have no idea what the people at Wevorce thought about this, but I have to imagine it happens a lot. At the end we were presented with a folder full of documents to file with the court. More work to be done, but at least we reached that point with more money in our pockets.

The Wevorce experience isn’t for everyone. Navigating the site can be really annoying, especially if you go back and make changes. They made some errors in the final docs, which I fortunately caught in time. (Read carefully!) And our situation was less complicated than most. We were on relatively good terms. Our kids were nearly fully grown, so custody wasn’t an issue. Plus, we were pretty broke, so no huge fight over assets.

If I ever remarry and find myself in this situation again, would I use Wevorce? Probably. But I certainly hope I never have to. —Dan Tynan