Divorce is painful enough. Separate.us wants to at least make the paperwork easier.
Much like TurboTax, Separate.us, which presented today at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, takes complex, confusing forms and translates them into simple questions. Separate.us founders Sandro Tuzzo and Larry Maloney hope this tool will help those seeking divorce file on their own and avoid the expensive fees related to hiring lawyers.
Tuzzo is a divorce attorney and said he first got the idea for the service when trying to “help clients help themselves.” Even with his experience as an attorney, he found out first- hand how complicated the process can be when he filed for his own divorce.
“As a lawyer, I found the forms to be a real pain in the ass,” Tuzzo said.
Tuzzo wants Separate.us to completely change the way people pay for lawyers. He said there are few other services that rack up ridiculous fees quite like lawyers do because clients have no idea how many hours they’re going to bill.
Tuzzo said he first started thinking about a tool like Separate.us when he began trying to help clients save on fees by having them represent themselves in court. He still consulted with them and assisted with paperwork, but that way he could clearly tell them how much his services would cost. In general he said his clients fared better in court because judges were more sympathetic to those without lawyers who showed up with their paperwork correctly filed.
He then began thinking that there may be a way to automate the process, and he’s been testing Separate.us with the clients he works with. Right now the application only works in California.
When users log into Separate.us, they see a Q&A that explains if they are eligible for the service. Tuzzo said this helps ease potential clients into divorce paperwork.
If a user qualifies, the application can help them file the initial paperwork. Tuzzo said they are expanding the process gradually, and hope to one day be able to assist clients with all divorce paperwork.
Not all divorces will be simple enough to complete online, Tuzzo acknowledges. However, he hopes that he will be able to at least help clients start the process. He already has found lawyers who are willing to take on clients whose divorces become too complex.
Tuzzo said talking about his company can be somewhat difficult because of the strong feelings people associate with divorce. He said it’s particularly awkward to speak to potential investors about the company because many venture capitalists have had colorful divorces.
But despite the awkwardness, Tuzzo said he’s found a simple argument when he encounters people who are resistant to the idea of online divorces.
“There are tons of dating apps that connect people, but what if you need to disconnect?” Tuzzo said. “There’s nothing.”
Tuzzo added that one in three marriages now start online, but no one is dismantling those marriages online. He also noted that the market for divorce will likely be growing in the coming years. With the legalization of same sex marriage, more people will be getting married and, as a result, getting divorced.
Though Separate.us will start with divorce, Tuzzo’s company Legal Passage aims to one day apply the TurboTax method to a wide range of legal processes. Tuzzo said he could see the process being applied to other common legal procedures such as creating a will or resolving disputes between landlords and tenants.
Separate.us launched a private beta in California. An initial petition filing will cost $99.
Q. How far does your base price go with using those terms before you start paying for additional work that goes into it?
A. We basically have the platform that allows yourself to drive through the process. Then every case is really unique. You can then be referred out.
Q. When that initial form is created, did you make it so the spouse can opt to respond through Separate.us?
We work with the individual, but there’s nothing wrong with the spouse coming on as well because there’s no attorney client privilege.
Q. Divorce is a traumatic event. Why are people going to trust you?
Trust is huge in this. If you think about the way the model is set up when I have my law practice, I get people who trust me because of our relationships. What I’m trying to here is be mindful of the customer’s pocketbook. I’m trying to give people the opportunity to have a pathway through it.
Q. How do you plan to acquire customers?
We’ll be able to experiment with different marketing channels.
Q. Do you have a mobile product that goes with this?
Our platform is mobile enabled, but I don’t envision that people will fill out divorce forms on a phone. We will work on an iPad.
Q. What other areas of family law?
Everyone should probably have a will or a trust, so there’s definitely a huge market for that.