Use of Divorce Forms Argued Among Texas Attorneys

Texans who want to divorce but cannot afford an attorney may soon be given the chance to do it themselves with the use of standard divorce forms. Whether or when those divorce litigation forms will be used depends on the agreement of attorneys and lawmakers, who are currently battling over the issue.

The state high civil court assigned a group of attorneys to come up with an answer to the problem of helping poorer Texans find adequate divorce court representation. The task force set about creating basic divorce forms, similar to ones already used in more than three dozen other states.

Several family law attorneys of the Texas State Bar have objected to the simplification of divorce proceedings. Several lawyers have said they are worried divorcing spouses could cheat themselves using over-simplified forms.

Divorce attorneys often deal with couples who flip-flop between an amicable divorce and a contentious one. If a couple initiates a divorce using generic forms but later disagrees, the legal fees to unravel the mess could be more costly than if the couple hired a lawyer from the start.

Some lawyers say that a multitude of poorer Texas couples already try to divorce using self-representation. Many employ complex, non-standard forms that cause wasted or lengthy bouts in court.

A number of Texas State Bar family law attorneys requested that the state Supreme Court stop the task force’s work. The request was denied. One justice felt the simple divorce forms were necessary to meet the needs of “6 million Texans” who could qualify for legal aid.

The justice’s admonishment came with a promise. Any divorce forms approved by the state Supreme Court would be acceptable only if they were helpful to divorce litigants and courts.

There are options available that are more affordable for divorcing couples than trying to go it alone and getting snagged up in the process. A no-fault divorce or using mediation could be a better way to reach an amicable settlement.

Source: Houston Chronicle, “Kilday Hart: Divorce forms divide two groups of Texas lawyers,” Patricia Kilday Hart, Feb. 3, 2012

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