For fees ranging from $50 to $300 – a small fraction of what most lawyers charge even for an uncontested divorce – couples are being provided with the appropriate forms and varying degrees of help completing them.
The phenomenon is spreading. Rival firms CompleteCase.com and LegalZoom.com each say they have served 20,000 clients nationwide in less than three years of operation. Hits on the divorce section of the California court system’s do-it-youself Web site soared from 6,800 in May 2002 to about 15,000 last month.
“It’s similar to the growth of online travel services and online stock trading,” said Brian Lee, president of Los Angeles-based LegalZoom.
Many clients may still have to appear in court, but – in theory, at least – they will have all required paperwork with them and will be able to represent themselves.
“For me, it was a purely economic decision,” said John Chang, 33, of South Pasadena, Calif., who paid LegalZoom $300 to help him obtain an uncontested divorce last year.
“I filled out the forms in the course of a night – it took three hours – and saved $2,000,” he said. “When you don’t have children or a lot of assets, it’s the way to go.”