Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to exEXPERTS.com to subscribe.
In today’s Divorce etc… podcast we are so happy to have Erin Levine here. She is the founder of Hello Divorce. We’ve been following her and all of her projects around Hello Divorce for quite some time. Since we actually came up with the idea of exEXPERTS. Welcome to our show.
Erin: I am so excited to be here. I am a big fan of both of you, and I love your platform. Yeah, let’s dig in. This will be great.
Jessica: We’re super psyched.
T.H.: Thank you. And so I was driving to Vermont last weekend, and on the billboard, which you’ll see a picture of soon enough, there’s a fourth finger up with a ring on it that basically is promoting online divorce. Like, it can be this easy. So what is online divorce? I mean, everybody has seen signs for $399 for your divorce or $99 for your divorce, which makes me feel like I’m not getting an online divorce, or they’re just stealing money from me. I’m very skeptical now of all of these things. But I can see a lot of people getting suckered into that, holy shit, I can be done for under 500 bucks? That’s awesome. But that’s not you. You’re not the person on the billboard, but you are “Do It Yourself divorce”. So tell us what that means.
Erin: I am so glad you’re critical of those online divorce programs because you should be. Traditionally, we always think of lawyering up, retaining a lawyer, paying a retainer, and sort of moving through that pathway. But actually, DIY divorce has been around for a long time. The reason is because the average cost of divorce is between $15,000 and $25,000 per person. That’s from Nolo’s research and USA Today. Divorce is so expensive, and for most people, 80% of cases have at least one self-represented party, because either they can’t afford it, or they can, but they don’t want to pay that much. They’re afraid that lawyering up might ramp up conflict. And so this online divorce option came up in actually the late 90s. It was an opportunity for people who have very amicable divorces to complete their forms because most states have standardized forms, and then take those forms, figure out how to properly serve your spouse, how to file them in court, and ultimately, hopefully, fingers crossed, get divorced, and hopefully, fingers crossed, the divorce decree actually says what you want it to say. I was always really critical of DIY divorce. I am a divorce lawyer, and I have been one for 16 years. I’m a certified divorce family law specialist, so this is my game, and I get it. But I also knew and wanted to recreate how we divorce to try to make a friendlier, simpler, easier, more affordable option for those people that maybe still do have conflict and still want to protect their interests, but don’t want to or can’t lawyer up in the traditional sense of the word. And so that’s when Hello, Divorce was born. The concept is that you only pay for what you need when you need it. Because as you ladies know, unless there’s an emergency like somebody has cut you off from finances or taken your child and ran, divorce doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process, and you have time to gather documents to think through possible solutions, speak with a lawyer if you need one, and bring a neutral mediator in if you can’t get to that finish line. That was the goal to help with the forms and have you do it in a way that’s not only easy because of technology, but that really asks you questions in plain language. Because if you’ve ever looked at those forms, they make absolutely no sense
T.H.: Frightening. It’s frightening, even just all the jargon around divorce. We actually had a lawyers’ part of exEXPERTS define the terms because you don’t even know what half of it means.
Erin: You know when I knew it was so hard and ridiculous is when–California I sort of take for granted because I’ve always been here, but when we launched in Texas, there was a question on the divorce petition and it had something to do with indemnification. I asked three different lawyers, who gave us three different responses. And really what the question was is do you and your spouse have a prenup? That was all that really needed to be asked. But because it was so complicated, no one knew what it meant. Online divorce can be great, but you want to make sure that you’re working with a company like ours that explains these terms and then gives you the opportunity to have people step in and help you where you need it, especially around the filing and service stuff. Because I don’t think a lot of people realize this, but it’s actually quite complicated. Some counties are different than other counties, even if you’re in the same state. Some courts like e-signatures, others do not. Some tell you, you have to staple your paperwork, and others say hole-punch and paperclip. And none of this information is readily available on the court websites.
Jessica: First of all, I’m so surprised to hear the stat that 80% of divorces have a partner that’s being self-represented. Maybe it’s just from where we come from on the East Coast it’s natural for people to get lawyers for it. But I also–
Erin: Yeah, I think New York throws that stat off for sure.
Jessica: Maybe. Maybe. But also part of what I love so much about what you’re doing is what you mentioned the beginning in terms of just the cost and it being affordable. I can’t tell you over the course of probably the last 15 years, the number of, unfortunately, primarily women that I’ve spoken to who have said if not for the fact that they don’t have a job, or their lives would be unsustainable if they got divorced, they literally feel they cannot get divorced. They can’t afford to get divorced, and they’re stuck then in this unhappy marriage, presumably for the rest of their lives. The idea that you guys are coming out with something that will allow people to make it more accessible, I think is such a huge service.
Erin: Thank you. We never want anyone to feel stuck. That was a really big motivation for me because my team has always volunteered in court. We saw how many of these cases just had one lawyer representing, and usually, that was representing a man. That scared me because while I do think that in many cases, you can divorce without hiring a lawyer to retain them to run your case, we are still dissolving one of the most complicated contracts of our lives, this marital contract. To not have access to good solid advice, or not know who to turn to for some of that advice…sometimes it’s not a lawyer at all, right? Sometimes it’s a certified divorce financial analyst, who’s less expensive than a lawyer, but not having those resources and knowing where to go is what scares me the most and why I love your model so much. Because while you highlight great legal services and lawyers and companies, you also make it very clear that hey, we know you’re not divorcing in a vacuum. It is not just law. There are other people that can help. There are other things that you can do to move forward with your life and set yourself up in a really great position.
Jessica: So how do you incorporate those people? Thank you. How do you incorporate those types of people into the process of what you’re doing to help people with Hello Divorce? If you know that someone might need a forensic accountant or someone’s going to need a custody expert or employability expert, etc, how does that all come into play if someone comes into use Hello Divorce?
Erin: It’s all part of our process and so we do a few things. First of all, we have a quiz you can take on the website, and you can schedule a 15-minute call. That call isn’t necessarily–we can’t give legal advice. In fact, we are really backed by strong legal regulations. If you can imagine, not all lawyers are particularly happy with what we’re doing so we have to be very careful not to give legal advice in that 15-minute call. But what we can do is learn a little bit about you. What are your goals? What are you most afraid of? What do you think might end up being an issue? And in that 15-minute call, we can not only help them understand the plans that we have but where they might need outside help. Some of that help is actually baked into our offerings. So as an example, a lot of people said to us over the last few years, we want a lawyer to talk to both of us. We both want to talk to a lawyer to make sure we have all the information that we need and make sure that we understand the law, the best and worst-case scenarios that will help us come to an agreement. Well, the law says no, no, no. In rare circumstances, you can maybe have a lawyer help you both, but ordinarily, it’s a conflict of interest, and you can’t do that. So in that circumstance, what we did was we hired lawyer mediators. That way, you could bake it into your package, or you can work for an hour or two with a mediator who understands the law if that’s important to you, and that can explain both sides of things, and then help move you towards an agreement. We also have account coordinators. These are not lawyers. They don’t offer legal advice, but they’re there to say you have three steps, we’re taking you through three steps, and we are going to be there with you every step of the way. If you need a revision, we’ll make it for you. We can’t create it for you. You have to use the software because that’s what the law says, but we can make it for you. If you need a lawyer to review some of your forms before you file, we’ve got that too. So this is all to say, a super contested case or a violent spouse, this is not probably going to be a great option for you. But if the two of you are at least somewhat committed to trying to come to an agreement at some point, then this would be a good solution. The account coordinators are there from day one. Of course, we have lawyers if you need them. We have these mediators, and we work directly and coordinate with certified divorce financial analysts, aka forensic accountants, we don’t have–
T.H.: Within your state.
Erin: Within your state.
T.H.: So all of this, so everybody knows, it’s state-specific so you’re covered and abiding by the rules and regulations of that state?
Jessica: So whether someone lives in Kentucky or Missouri or Texas or Georgia, they can use Hello Divorce, and you’re giving them resources in their area in the states in which you’ve launched so far?
Erin: Yeah, almost. So we are working on some national offerings that we will absolutely launch in 2022. At the moment, we have taken a very thoughtful approach to launching. We could have launched in every state, but the goal here was is to launch with a content expert who can help with accessibility and help develop our questions, to work with a lawyer, a very experienced lawyer who can help us anticipate where someone might have an issue in the system, a lot of paralegals, CDFAs – the financial analysts, and also to understand different cultural issues that come up in every state, because there really is a little bit of a difference in divorce culture, depending on where you are. Because of that, we are currently only live in California, Utah, Texas, Colorado, and just about New York, Florida soon, and we will have a bilingual Spanish-English product. And then like I said, we will be launching this other national product, which is more in the mediation space. I hope to do DIY everywhere. That’s going to be a little while, but we really want to take this thoughtful approach. The other thing is that no matter what state you’re in, you can get our divorce 101 guide, which has worksheets on developing a co-parenting plan, and what are some of the issues, or most of the issues you need to think about before you get divorced. Because most women, especially, tell me I’m afraid I’m going to miss something. They think that if they do it with a lawyer, they won’t. You know that’s so not accurate. Lawyers have their own lives, their own cases, and they are not going to know everything about what’s going on. They won’t know if there was a 401k five years ago that got shut down. You have to think about these things and go with your intuition and instincts. I try to get everything into these worksheets so that it’s getting you thinking and preparing and slowing down.
T.H.: I think that’s the biggest thing here that the three of us are definitely on a mission for is knowledge is power.
T.H.: If I knew so much more, then things would have been different, regardless of what it even was. And just to be reminded, of course, I knew it, but I needed to be reminded of it because you’re inundated and oh, by the way, you’ve got kids who need to go to school, and you have to go to work, and you have to get your shit together, to wake up and look like you’re not losing your mind every day because of people, and you got to get this other stuff going. So the resources that Erin has are amazing, but just being able to empower people to make better choices. Because Jessica and I say all the time, you don’t know what you don’t know. But we do, and we’ve lived in it. We understand. I’m sure there’s a bunch of stuff we still don’t know, that we need to know, but we’re going to go to the experts to get that information and share it accordingly. Divorce is a very lonely time. I also really love the fact that you already have a team. It’s already team T.H. is ready to go. Let’s go. And in the world of COVID right now, not everybody’s out, and not everybody’s accessible when you want them. Having this online tool resource kind of allows you to work through your own decisions in your own time. You’re not at the lawyer’s office, or at the courthouse. So, fortunately, things have slowed down, and that is 100% to your benefit, everybody listening. Because the minute you rush, you make bad decisions. You’re acting on impulse and emotion and not on information that you could be getting for yourself. Because like Jess and I just talked about today, this is the life-altering, binding, to an extent, but a big extent, decision for the direction of the rest of your life.
Jessica: You’re making decisions when your kids are potentially three years old that are going to impact when they’re 18, but you didn’t think about that issue, because they were three. I remember when we were going through our divorces, and after one particular meeting that T.H. had with her lawyer, and I don’t know who brought it up, but she came back to me and she was like, by the way, have you spoken to your lawyer about who’s paying for your kids’ weddings? And when they go to college, if they go to college more than X hundreds of miles away and it requires plane tickets, who’s buying them a plane ticket home four times a year? And I was like, oh my god my kids were literally two and four. And like, fuck no, I haven’t thought about any of that. I went back into my lawyer’s office, and I’m like, we’ve got to work this shit in too. So it’s like you make these decisions, and you have so much on your plate. You don’t think about the long-term impact necessarily of, oh, I should have made this adjustment for when the kid turns 17 because now there’s going to be a different scenario.
Erin: Well, and part of it, to lawyers’ credit, because there are a lot of great lawyers that you work with and that we know, and well-intentioned, but in most states, once your child hits the age of majority, you no longer have a legal requirement to–
T.H.: Which by the way is ridiculous, let me just put it out there. But it’s the law.
Erin: It is. And it’s not real life.
Erin: What we want to encourage people to do is think long beyond what the law says. Because you are going to be co-parenting, you’re going to be dealing with this person the rest of your life. And so the more you can resolve now, the better.
Jessica: 100%. I’m curious, you made mention of the fact that state to state, in different areas of the country, divorce is treated different culturally. A huge conversation and I think that even when we spoke on the phone with you, we were talking a lot about the stigma around divorce. Part of the reason that we have to keep talking about these things and making people aware of it is so that people aren’t embarrassed or ashamed, or feel that they’ve done anything wrong or failed when they get divorced. I’m curious to know, I don’t need to know the states, but what are some of the differences that you have found out that are culturally different with divorce? Is that what it’s about?
Erin: Yeah, so in New York, it’s very litigious. When you hire a mediator, or you go a different route other than the lawyer up and fight route, it’s kind of seen as lesser. A lot of people tell me the mediator is the second option you had instead. If you really had the money really dedicated to this, you would have lawyered up. So there’s a lot of that. Utah’s been really interesting. We thought because so many people are so connected to religion that would make for easier divorces. Wanting to separate in integrity, you want to feel connected to your god. But actually, because there’s still so much stigma in that religion, oftentimes, what we’re seeing is one person having to make the other person bad to sort of self-justify why they’re leaving. There’s a lot of guilt around that.
T.H.: That happens in a lot of places by the way.
Erin: It happens in a lot of places.
T.H.: It’s always easier to say she cheated or he cheated. It’s their fault. They’re bad. Now we’re all good.
Erin: Right, absolutely, yeah. It definitely happens everywhere. I mean, we did a big blog around religion and divorce and people and their different experiences. Some people really needed and wanted and got the community that they needed. Which is especially important since we do everything in community, all these big life events, like moving, and even death – funerals, weddings, baby showers, but divorce, we do alone. And then also people who had terrible experiences with their religion, actually, like people turning their back on them. So it’s fascinating. It really is.
Jessica: For anyone listening and you follow us on social media at exEXPERTS on Instagram, in our stories, we have questions, just poll questions that people can answer about any given thing. One of the things that we had asked the other day was have you had sex since your divorce or separation? You can click yes or no.
Erin: It’s a good question.
Jessica: Right. It’s just we were asking, have you started dating? Have you had sex yet? Do you ask first about COVID vaccination? Or do you ask first about STDs? Just questions that come up in conversations amongst us divorced people. But anyway, a woman had commented back and it said, and I don’t want to misspeak, I think she said Georgia, that if you have sex while you’re getting divorced, or post-separation if your divorce has not been signed off by the judge, it’s considered adultery. They can be separated, and if they are dating and if they have sex with someone else…and so we had a little bit of a–I answered and said that that’s an interesting fact to know, and people need to be aware of that. I would hope that people who live in Georgia do know that. I said it’s so interesting because New York and New Jersey are no-fault states. You can have sex while you’re married with someone else and it doesn’t matter. And no one gives a shit! And it doesn’t impact your divorce.
T.H.: You could still have sex while you’re married, just not while you’re separating!
Jessica: That’s right!
T.H.: Isn’t that crazy? They’re making these laws up. Honestly, it’s just…
Jessica: But all of the nuances that someone would need to know going through it. So just for me, to bring it back to the Hello Divorce process, if you’re not a lawyer and you don’t know all of the ins and outs, and you don’t know all of that innuendo, like how would I know? I’m amicably separated from my spouse and we’re living in two different places, and I date someone else. The next thing I know, that’s being used against me as part of my divorce? It’s so important to have guidance through the process. So how exactly does it work? Someone goes online to Hello Divorce, they choose from whatever the selection of states are that you’re currently launched in, and then go from where?
Erin: They can choose what plan they want. They would go to memberships and pricing. They can always upgrade or downgrade, but most people choose what’s called DIY Pro. I might be changing the name of that. But for now, most people choose DIY Pro, which allows them to immediately get started on the software. Again, we break it up into three steps. The first questionnaire is simply just about doing your initial paperwork and reserving your rights, nothing fancy other than that. Then the account coordinator jumps in to file those documents and serve them, deliver them to your spouse, introducing ourselves. Here’s what your spouse’s goal is to try to keep this out of court and see if you guys can come to an agreement. You don’t have to have one yet. But you are simply signing that you’ve received these documents, not that you agree with them, just trying to keep that tension down and people feeling better. Then the second step is the financial disclosures. As you’re disclosing whatever you know about your state and or your spouse’s, your forms are being populated too so you’re not having to do it in a million different places.
Erin: Then if a lawyer mediator or financial advisor anyone jumps in, they can go right to that portal if the client authorizes it. So again, we’ve all had nightmare situations when we’re trying to refinance or buy a house or do our divorce. It’s so frustrating when you have to keep providing information and finding it, and so we have that. Then the last step is the hardest, right? That’s the part about coming to an agreement. There we have lots of resources on what it is that you need to agree to, what are the things you should think about when it might be a good time to talk to a lawyer or mediator. Then at that point, if you’re a DIY pro, you can add a la carte, but most people don’t unless it’s just to have a lawyer review their paperwork for an hour. Then that final step is, depending on your level, you can either be filling out that questionnaire that ultimately pops out all of your divorce agreement and decree. Or if you’re working with a mediator or lawyer, they’ll prepare it for you. With any of our products or services, you can start on your own, and some people do. Then when their spouse sees that they didn’t lawyer up in that traditional sense that tends to bring the conflict down. The client feels good about knowing that if they need a lawyer, one is available to them. Those are for DIY, DIY Pro, and Divorce with Benefits. The last option is Cooperative Divorce. That’s when both of you want to start together. You don’t have an agreement, you might not even know what’s what, but you’re going to want to work at this together. In that scenario, you have both an account coordinator and a mediator. It could be a lawyer mediator, it could be a therapist mediator, or it could be somebody who has no law experience at all, but it’s super creative and has an advanced degree in alternative dispute resolution. So really, it’s just about finding the right fit.
T.H.: So they’re coaching you through and being equally supportive and making sure you’re hearing what he says, and she’s hearing what he says, so you can keep moving forward? I like it.
Erin: Yeah. And in some cases, depending on the emotional triggers or relationship between the couple, sometimes that mediator’s shuffling between the two. We don’t always have a meeting like this where we’re all together. It could be that the mediator needs to coach someone a little bit to get their expectations in line. Or it could be that the mediator needs to take some extra time to explain how a particular asset works and that the other spouse was getting frustrated. It’s really flexible and tailored.
T.H.: So what are the next–what states are you aiming to launch into in 2022?
Erin: We’re still working that out. Of course, we’re launching in New York and Florida. Those are our next babies. We are still thinking through that path.
T.H.: It’s a lot of work.
Jessica: It is a lot of work.
T.H.: And then you have to stay up to date on whatever they change, which doesn’t happen a lot, but there’s probably a tiny little nuance that it could shift things completely.
Erin: That’s right. It does because these courts, especially small counties will arbitrarily change a form or want additional information, or maybe a judge might not like an agreement and wants you to come in. All these things we have to take into account, and we do. I mean, we will definitely hit Ohio and most of the East Coast. A lot goes into where we would decide to go next. The population, how many divorces, where experts–
T.H.: Okay, well, New York and Florida, and a nationwide guide with mediation attached to it, is in the immediate future?
Erin: Yeah, absolutely.
Jessica: Well, it really is–I mean, it’s like a love fest here.
Jessica: No, but we’re so on board with what you’re doing and the reasons behind it, the intention behind it, and the fact that it’s such a needed tool and resource for so many people. We love the idea that we can help you tell more people about it because people definitely need it. We really do have to get to a point where people aren’t going broke and losing their homes and losing everything that they’ve ever had [and their sanity] just to be able to move forward with their lives and not be married to that person anymore. So yeah, thank you so much Erin for explaining to us and for taking the time to be here today. We love it.
T.H.: Thank you, Erin.
Erin: Thank you for the questions. I really enjoyed the conversation.
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