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Self-help divorce forms approved by Texas justices

One-third of the justices on the Texas Supreme Court disagreed with a decision that would allow spouses to use standardized forms to end a marriage. The state high court split 6-to-3 in favor of do-it-yourself Texas divorces, a move that some lawyers say will hurt couples the state is trying to help.

Proponents say unhappy spouses who cannot afford lawyers for divorce litigation will use the do-it-yourself divorce method. State family law attorneys oppose the measure, which they say will force spouses to conform to a single standard. The lawyers argued that divorce settlements are too unique for a "one-size-fits-all" solution. All but two states permit the use of standardized forms for family law issues.

Three justices felt divorcing couples might not walk away from a marriage with a fair division of assets. The proposed forms, already available online, exclude pension and jobless benefits that can affect marital property division. Couples with complex issues involving children or property may not use the do-it-yourself method.

Lawyers and lawmakers have been wrangling over the low-cost divorce issue for nearly two years. Attorneys fear spouses will make mistakes on the forms that could permanently affect them during or after divorce.

The high court is hoping to fulfill a growing need among impoverished Texans. Family law courts across the state received 58,000 filings in 2011 that included no legal representative. The number of lawyers available to handle the pro bono work is far lower than the state caseload.

The advice of an attorney during a divorce proceeding can aid spouses well past the time of a divorce decree. Legal fees can be substantial, especially in contested divorces. It can be more costly in the long run for a spouse to lose assets unwittingly during a botched self-litigated divorce.

The standardized forms have been posted on the website of the Texas Supreme Court. Justices will accept public input about the forms through Feb. 1.

Source: elpasoinc.com, "Texas court OKs do-it-yourself divorce forms," Chuck Lindell, Nov. 18, 2012

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