When Christine and Andrew Brodigan of Seattle divorced five years ago, they weren't typical candidates for a quick and cheap split.
They had a child, a home and a 10-year marriage to dissolve. Marriages of a decade or more often spur complex decrees involving alimony in addition to child support payments.
Even in the midst of the breakup, however, both spouses agreed that fighting over assets with lawyers on the clock would only deplete their chances of long-term financial success.
"I knew our financial picture well enough to know there wasn't anything more I could have gotten from him," no matter how many lawyers were involved, she said.
Plunking down a total of about $400 - $249 for an online document preparation service at www.completecase.com and court filing fees - the couple drafted a custody plan for their daughter and a financial settlement.
To make the deal work, both spouses gave up on certain issues. After answering a series of questions, the online service showed their state's child-support formula would call for much more than what Andrew Brodigan, a budding entrepreneur, could afford. They adjusted the number down, though it has risen since his income has increased.
She lived in their home during the separation, then the couple split the proceeds when it was sold. She received the newer and nicer of the couple's two cars, but also the loan. There were no alimony payments.
"I wasn't out to get him," she said. "Of course we had some arguments, but we eventually found ways to work around them."
Since 2000, more than 100,000 couples have divorced using two popular online divorce document preparation services, completecase.com and www.legalzoom.com, the companies said. Another online resource is www.divorceonline.com, a free site that offers information and referrals.
That's a fraction of the roughly 1 million U.S. divorces each year, but providers of the online services said their numbers are growing fast as people - even those with lengthy marriages - see the cost advantage and grow more comfortable using the Internet. Although divorce costs vary widely, most estimates peg the number typically well into five figures.
Lawyers groups and the services themselves warn couples that online divorces are only for uncontested breakups, but they are gaining in popularity even among the affluent, experts said.
Very few divorce cases actually go to trial, noted Randolph Finney, founder of CompleteCase.com and a family law attorney in Seattle. So couples end up paying for a lot of lawyers' time spent on pretrial motions.
"When it comes down to the wire, you're going to be stuck in a room together and dividing up your stuff yourselves anyway," Finney said. His point: Why spend thousands of dollars getting there?
He also said the online method lets couples feel more in control of their own destiny, cutting the acrimony that comes with traditional adversarial splits.
That's the premise behind the rise of yet another divorce trend: collaborative law. The collaborative method, conceived by Minnesota attorney Stuart Webb, requires attorneys to pledge to withdraw from the case if a client's attempts to settle out of court fail.
This gives the parties an extra incentive to settle rather than having to hire new attorneys. Couples also share, rather than duplicate, many professional services, such as pension valuation experts or certified divorce financial planners.
Janet Kidd Stewart writes for Tribune Media Services.