Splitsville: Cyber-Style

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AP
It's divorce, dot-com style.

Mark Stein, who has made a career of mediating divorces and other disputes, has created an online service - ourdivorceagreement.com - that offers couples a self-guided cyber split.

Couples can use it to work out details of a divorce agreement - from child custody and visitation to division of property and debts. They even can work out ways to split frequent-flyer miles and club memberships.

The service, which debuted last month, is not for everyone, Stein said. Couples have to be willing to cooperate with each other. Feuding couples need not apply.

For a $149 fee, couples get a series of forms on which to record their decisions.

"I give them the benefit of all the choices I have ever seen clients choose," said Stein, who runs a mediation service in Louisville.

Completed agreements that include child and financial issues generally average about 16 pages. The Web site also will generate financial disclosure forms that can be submitted in court. Attorneys and mediators can access the service to prepare documents for their clients.

Stein said he expects mixed reactions from divorce lawyers.

"Attorneys who make their living on contentious divorce cases will not like this, just like they don't like mediation," he said. "But attorneys who feel their job is to help their clients accomplish the goal in the least amount of time and with the least expense and in a cooperative manner, those attorneys will appreciate this site, just as they appreciate mediation."

Family Court Judge Patricia Walker Fitzgerald said the online service is part of a national trend in which divorcing couples are encouraged to reach agreements before coming to court.

"We have found that when people are a part of the resolution, they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome and are less likely to litigate in the future," she said.

Couples can work together on the same computer. Or if they want to avoid contentious face-to-face encounters, they can work on separate computers and communicate by phone.

Before signing up, couples must agree to hire separate attorneys to review the agreement. An attorney would present the document to court for a judge's signature, Stein said.

"This is not a substitute for sound legal advice before signing a divorce agreement," he said. "And at no point do I give legal advice. In fact, I don't give advice at all - I offer choices."

The service suggests a number of options that divorcing couples can choose from.

Who, for example, gets the children on holidays? Perhaps each parent could spend alternating holidays with the kids. Or the kids could split the day - or entire weekend - with the parents.

"If they don't like those, they can choose their own option," Stein said.

The service also can be used by non-married couples and same-sex couples, Stein said.