An Idaho startup says it can connect people who own smartphones with people who want amicable divorces.
Family law attorney Michelle Crosby founded Wevorce in 2012, and since then, the 15-employee company has facilitated almost 700 divorces, and only 2 percent of the couples resorted to litigation. Based on those results, and future prospects that include a partnership with the U.S. military, the company raised $3 million through Techstars. The app basically helps couples obtain a collaborative law divorce in any of the 50 states, through affiliations with over 600 legal and financial professionals. After completing five modules, the app helps couples prepare the paperwork.
Ms. Crosby says Wevorce has processed over $40 million in assets, and the typical divorce takes less than 90 days.
Today’s divorce apps, and there are many of them, are really more like lawyer referral services with a few added features, because it will be quite some time before even basic family law procedures move entirely online. For example, only one or two jurisdictions in the country currently allow papers to be served via social media, even though that is probably a better way to guarantee actual notice than publishing a newspaper ad, which is the preferred method. Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who feel that the family law system is either entirely inadequate or at least not well-suited for their particular needs. If that is the case, there are few or no complex legal issues, and there is broad agreement on most factual matters, collaborative law may be an option.
This method is one of the only true litigation alternatives, because if the collaborative process breaks down, the parties must begin the case totally anew with different counsel. Instead of court hearings, collaborative divorces feature meetings between the represented spouses where they work out possibly divisive issues like child custody and property division.
A collaborative law divorce, like the ones that Wevorce facilitates, may settle in as little as three or four meetings once a month, or it may take considerably longer.
Only a handful of spouses opt for collaborative divorce, but nearly all litigants participate in either voluntary or court-ordered mediation.The success rate is about 70 percent for voluntary mediations and 60 percent for court-ordered ones. Mediation is part of the litigation process rather than a litigation alternative, making it ideal for cases that have a few complex legal issues, such as property commingling, that a judge probably needs to resolve. Moreover, if the parties agree on big-picture items but are far apart when it comes to the specifics, collaborative law will likely fail but mediation may succeed, because there is a neutral third party to facilitate settlement.
Private judges, like the one that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have apparently hired, may be an option as well. A retired judge is on hand to make legal decisions and there are almost no time delays. However, the price tag (as much as $1,000 an hour in some cases, and there are attorneys’ fees on top of that) makes this alternative cost prohibitive for most people.
According to Steven Fernandez, an attorney at Fernandez & Karney Divorce Lawyers, “Unlike private judges, mediation usually means significant cost savings, because mediations require less preparation time then trials and successful mediations may shave several months off the overall process.” Because it is private and informal, mediation usually takes the emotional conflict level down a few notches, and that is good if the couple has young children who still need both parents to get along at least reasonably well. Finally, if parties feel they have a stake in the outcome, “there may be more voluntary compliance later, which means less modification and enforcement litigation,” says Mr. Fernandez.
Because of all these benefits, and to reduce their trial dockets to the greatest extent possible, judges nearly always refer contested cases to mediation.
Parties can settle any issues in any marriage dissolution proceedings at any time by mutual agreement. Formal premarital property division agreements cannot cover child support matters, so there must be a separate agreement. The California family code favors spousal agreements, and under the Uniform Premarital and Marital Agreements Act, judges usually enforce them unless they are excessively one-sided or there is evidence of coercion.
Agreed divorces basically combine the best of both mediated and collaborative divorces, because the parties control the outcome and the litigation process is available as a fallback.