Make a New Plan, Stan

Divorce Sites Offer 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

If Mayor Giuliani had surfed the Web for advice, he might not have looked quite so much like a drowning man when he made the emotional announcement that he and Donna Hanover were splitsville.

But it's never too late to take advantage of a growing number of Web sites that help put asunder what church and state joined together. Just take a look at the cyberpromises. "D-I-V-O-R-C-E doesn't have to be a bad experience," coos Divorce USA Online (abtn.com/divorce). "As easy as 1-2-3 you are free. . . . [E]verything you need to file your divorce today! Only $49.95."

If you're having second thoughts about breaking up, try Divorce Online (divorceonline.com), a site Michigan lawyer Henry Gornbein founded in 1995 with a therapist and a Web developer. Financed in part by legal and financial advisers who pay $750 annually to have a photo, a bio, and contact information listed, the site aims to encourage people to explore divorce without fearing they've lit a fuse. "We felt that the traditional means of 'investigating' involved steps that were perceived as 'getting divorced,' " e-mails Gornbein. "For instance, if you call your attorney to simply inquire, you've begun the process. At least it feels that way."

Gornbein says he seeks to provide information about legal, economic, and psychological issues related to divorce. For troubled spouses just hoping for a little human contact—or a simple reality-check—Divorce Online offers "He Said . . . She Said," a bulletin board where more than 300 people a day post thoughts, feelings, questions, and fears. Topics range from "Adultery Around the World" to "What Did You Do With Your Wedding Dress" and "Love Is a Battlefield."

One fervent fan of Divorce Online, who goes by the handle of Allalone, says people who frequent divorce-related bulletin boards may be too quick to promote splitting up. Sometimes they advocate breaking up "just because you are unhappy, or maybe because your spouse called you a few names over the years," Allalone e-mails. "But the majority of the folks on here try to understand the big picture in a marriage and generally counsel therapy before giving up on something one has invested so much in."

And you can't just click and split, because the actual divorce still has to be handled through the courts. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers site (aaml.org) provides a well-organized gateway to divorce information and includes a number of useful tools, from a legal search engine to articles on matrimonial and family law and countless links to law libraries.

With well over a million couples divorcing each year, entrepreneurs see a chance to make money from matrimonial messes. One site still under construction, divorcehelpline.com, trumpets a team of lawyers and Internet professionals who are "working hard to make the dream real."

Attorneys argue there's nothing wrong with using the Net to troll for divorce clients. "The reality is that if a couple can't work things out, they will try to come to some resolution with or without the Web site," says Manhattan divorce mediator Carol A. Butler, coauthor of The Divorce Mediation Answer Book. "And there are plenty of places on the Web to find a marriage counselor."

Gornbein believes his site may be as likely to help couples save their relationships as it is to help them untie the knot. "Often with this information many people may decide to stay married," says Gornbein, whose statement doesn't seem to please everybody.

"Generally speaking I feel the most outspoken people that frequent this board are pro-divorce," writes THEL, a frequent Divorce Online visitor. "Anti-divorce stances are not a hot topic of conversation around these parts, and often an anti-divorce stance is met with cynicism and heckling. It's often pained me to see individuals on the fence come to this board. On occasion I've gone so far as to advise them to leave the DOL message board if they were serious about saving their marriage. When I was going through my own divorce, DOL was a place to search for answers to common divorce-related questions. It was really helpful, except that I am now legally divorced."

 
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