Divorce can be a legally, emotionally, and financially burdensome process. There are assets to be divided, custody arrangements to be determined and attorneys to be paid. Historically, there has been little political will to make the process any less burdensome as, up until recently, American society has disapproved of the practice.
Separate.us hopes to provide a market solution to the complexities of divorce.
Announced at TechCrunch Disrupt SF , the site aims to simplify the divorce filing process by using a question-based approach to help customers fill out pro-se divorce filings.
Some argue that sites like separate.us are a familiar concept, — basic, non-personalized assistance with pro-se filings – wrapped up in a shiny, technological package. While, established companies like Legalzoom, Rocketlawyer, and Complete Case already provide similar services, they often cost two or three times the initial $99 fee charged by separate.us.
Advocates of traditional legal services argue that a divorce attorney can provide important emotional support to clients who are going through what has been recognized as the second most stressful event that many adults will experience. Because divorces have traditionally involved the separation of a couple who is involved in an unbalanced power dynamic, a live attorney can be helpful in determining whether one party is overreaching. Separate.us may also benefit from “humanizing” their product in non-legal ways; one author has suggested that the site should offer a “comfort package” upon the completion of a successful divorce.
Others caution that the use of the boilerplate language used by legal self-help services may result in unanticipated results for clients. But because many lawyers become understandably territorial when discussing sites like separate.us it is often difficult to find a truly objective legal analysis of whether such sites provide favorable outcomes for their clients.
Despite skepticism from the legal industry, empirical evidence suggests that online tools may have a place in the divorce process. A study conducted in the Netherlands reported that couples are generally satisfied with the results of online dispute resolution, an electronically-facilitated method of Alternative Dispute Resolution. [For a discussion of online mediation as a tool for facilitating mediation in divorce cases involving domestic violence, see Dafna Lavi: Till Death Do Us Part ]
The mechanics of the separate.us platform appear to be, as yet, fairly opaque. Company founder, Sandro Tuzzo explained at Disrupt.SF: Potential clients will first be screened through a question and answer process, and those clients who qualify will be directed towards electronic divorce forms which assist them in preparing an initial petition for a divorce. Tuzzo, a family law practitioner, has indicated that he has found other family law attorneys who would be willing to assist clients whose divorces are more complex. Tuzoo also notes that spouses may use separate.us together, because at least as the process is currently structured, no attorney-client relationship is formed.
According to U.S. census data, separate.us should, at the very least, benefit from a strong base of potential customers. Millennials, a segment of the population generally considered to be more receptive to the adoption of new technology, divorce at much higher rates than other population groups. One analysis of 2010 census data found that 80.6% of divorcing couples are under the age of 29.
One industry player, Y–Combinator, thinks that the online-divorce concept has potential. In 2013, the venture capital firm invested 1.7 million in a similar software tool called weVorce. The founders of weVorce also participated in y-Combinator’s intensive incubation program, which helps start-ups prepare to pitch their ideas to investors.
At press, separate.us is still undergoing beta testing, and is not yet available to the public. Those interested in learning more about the service can enter their email address to receive a notification when the site launches.