Online Divorce agrees to stop providing legal advice to Washington residents
OLYMPIA – In an era of drive-through wedding chapels and even quicker divorces, it’s still possible to reach a roadblock. The Attorney General’s Office, which announced a settlement today with a company that advertised online divorce services, says Washington residents should check out the credentials of those who provide legal guidance and resources.
“Couples trying to undo their ‘I dos’ could find the process as irksome as an irreconcilable relationship if they don’t get information from a qualified source,” Senior Counsel Paula Selis said.
Do-it-yourself divorces can work if you and spouse agree about important issues, such as childcare and dividing property, Selis added. But she said there are many situations where individuals should seek the services of a licensed attorney or someone who is supervised by one.
The Attorney General’s Office reached an agreement with an Internet-based company accused of offering divorce services and providing legal advice without the necessary credentials. The state accused Online Divorce, which conducts business locally as Washington Divorce Online, of violating Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
The Delaware company agreed to enter into an agreement today in Thurston County Superior Court that restricts it from offering legal advice to Washington customers by telephone, e-mail or any other means.
The AG’s Consumer Protection Division initiated the agreement, which doesn’t include a finding or admission of wrongdoing, after receiving complaints from consumers who claimed they didn’t receive purchased services. The consumers also said they were unable to receive refunds. The state had additional concerns about services that were provided.
The company advertised on its Web site, www.washingtondivorceonline.com, that individuals can complete key divorce documents online. The site also claimed to “help you prepare your Washington State divorce forms according to your particular set of circumstances and in a format accepted by Washington Courts.”
Companies can sell legal forms in Washington but only licensed attorneys can select, draft or complete forms for others.
Online Divorce claimed its staff included “divorce specialists,” but the Attorney General’s Office alleged the company didn’t employee any matrimonial attorneys. Instead, its services were offered by representatives performing paralegal-type services. Under Washington law, paralegals must practice under the supervision of a Washington-licensed attorney or with legal authorization.
Under the agreement, Online Divorce will post a notice on www.washingtondivorceonline.com informing potential customers that its employees aren’t Washington-licensed attorneys and don’t provide divorce services for Washington consumers. The company has already provided refunds to consumers who complained to the Attorney General’s Office.
Information about legally obtaining a divorce in Washington can be found under the “Family Law” section of www.washingtonlawhelp.org, which offers forms and instructions prepared by the Northwest Justice Project. Forms can also be downloaded from the Washington Courts Web site at http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms.
Online Divorce Assurance of Discontinuance
Media Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager – Seattle, (206) 464-6432
Paula Selis, Senior Counsel and Assistant Attorney General, (206) 464-7662