'Be nice, save money': How Hollywood attorney Laura Wasser is rebranding divorce

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'Be nice, save money': How Hollywood attorney Laura Wasser is rebranding divorce

Laura Wasser is a family attorney and divorce lawyer in Hollywood. Former clients include Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, Jennifer Garner and Kim Kardashian. She still represents Hollywood royalty, but her new business venture is designed to help the rest of us get divorced for as cheap — and kindly — as possible.

It’s Over Easy, Wasser’s online mediation platform, guides couples through the divorce process without lawyers. Resources include property allocation tools, child support and spousal support calculators, custody calendars, explainer videos, and filing services.

Personal advisers are available, but the idea is to enable soon-to-be former spouses to partner for this one last thing and DIY their separation without paying sky-high attorney fees and retainers. The site charges between $750 and $2,500 for its online divorce services. (Full disclosure: It’s Over Easy is a Policygenius partner.)

Wasser started her journey to help people have more affordable, friendlier divorces in 2013 with her book “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way: How to Divorce Without Destroying Your Family or Bankrupting Yourself”. It’s Over Easy is an extension of that effort. We spoke to her about the platform, the biggest question people have when separating and why online divorce is taking off now. The following interview was edited for length and clarity.

A divorce lawyer starts a site to help people get divorced without a lawyer. Tell me about that.

I’ve been practicing family law for over 20 years. At my firm, the kind of resolution that we are trying to promote for families going through divorce is a message that anyone going through divorce should have access to. If you have more conflict, you’ll pay your attorneys more money. If you can work through it yourself, you’ll save money for living, for your kids, for college. Be nice, save money.

I’d be saying this at beach parties and summer picnics, and I’d have clients say, “my assistant or my nanny needs you”. But my friends couldn't afford me. I couldn’t even afford me. I do some pro-bono work. I’ve spent so much time talking to women’s groups and divorce workshops. But I wanted to get this message to more people.

I wrote the book, the book did well, and the next step was tech. I believe legal tech will eat the world. My feeling is that 80% of people getting divorced in the U.S. could probably do it themselves if they have the right tools. If you give people the tools, that will change the face of divorce.

You launched in New York and California. Why those places to start?

New York and California account for 20% of the divorces in the U.S. — so those were good places to start. We’ll be in Miami, Boston, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, statewide in Nevada, all of Connecticut, all of New Jersey, hopefully by the spring.

Why is online divorce taking off now?

I think people were ready for it — they weren't five or six years ago. People date online, shop online — the intimacy of information that you share with a divorce case, filling that out online isn’t met with some trepidation anymore. And you can do it sitting in your underwear on your couch with a box of Frosted Flakes next to you, at your own pace. You don’t have to worry about what you’re being billed per hour.

Speaking of: in your practice, you bill clients $900 an hour with a $25k retainer. It's Over Easy is $750 to $2,500, plus filing fees. Are these the most expensive and cheapest divorce options?

It can be cheaper if you do it yourself. The forms are usually free if you get them from the court, but with legal forms, just filling them out is difficult. It’ll say “date of separation” — well, for most people, they read that and can’t go any further. What does that mean: date of separation? There are online divorce services that are just form providers, but there has to be something that is a step up from that. People have no idea how to file these forms. So we walk you through it. When you use the site, a video pops up with me explaining date of separation, and everything else that you need to know.

Is divorce harder when more money is on the table?

You know the old adage “more money, more problems”? Well, yeah. But most people going through divorce, whether they are wealthy or impoverished, have the same concerns. It’s all relative. “Will my kid be OK?” is essentially the biggest question anyone has.

How should people prepare if they know divorce is coming?

If you’re in any kind of counseling, that’s the place to start. This is a very emotional subject, and I think the first part should happen in counseling, or in an email or letter so the person can read it and digest. Going to counseling is a good venue to discuss boundaries and terms of separations, broach the subject of doing mediation online. And it can cost money, yes, but it’s not as expensive as lawyering up and having the lawyers sending letters back and forth.

I was really struck that you provide referrals to therapists and counselors on the site.

Your relationship with the client and the client’s needs don’t end when the divorce is done. I’m constantly giving referrals in my practice: mental health professionals, financial planners, dating sites, advice to start a new business. And so we provide those same resources online: community, connection, a platform for mediation, and the provider index.

Can we talk about life insurance and divorce. How do you know if it’s necessary?

Most of the clients of my firm have life insurance policies on one or both parties. The policies are security for support, particularly if one of the parties is high risk, much older, flying a lot, a race car driver. If you have child support awarded for the next two years, it’s security for the support payments. It’s also a really good way to leave money for your children.

Do you have strong opinions about how couples should tackle finances in relationships?

From what I have seen over the course of my career and my life, the more transparency and communication there is between parties, the more likely they are to stay together. Even if you don't need a prenup — you don't need to protect any assets, you don't have any and you’re going to grow together — you should still have conversations about your expectations with regard to finances. Will your kid be going to private or public school? Who has student debt? Is that going to be paid off with money you’ve made during a marriage? And you need to do annual check ins at least. Keeping those lines of communications open improves the chances of the couple staying together.

Do you think people should get married?

There’s no way to know whether a couple should or shouldn't be getting married — but there’s no excuse not to know what you're getting into. People get married and enter into a contract with the florist and the caterer and read those contracts carefully, but they’re not reading the marriage contract.

In California, every dollar you earn or thing you create, everything that happens is community property, 50% goes to your spouse. And people don’t know this! They find this out when they file for divorce and are shocked. Go online and “search marriage laws in my state,” “support laws in my state.” You can't put anything about child support in a prenup, but it’s good to know going in, what you’re getting into.

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Image: Laura Wasser