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Debate over DIY divorce forms comes back to Texas Supreme Court

A few months ago we discussed a series of forms developed by the Texas Supreme Court that would allow state residents who can't afford an attorney to file for divorce themselves. While many say the forms provide better access to the legal system for poor Texans, opponents argue that many family law proceedings are too complicated to handle adequately with a do-it-yourself method.

Texas is currently one of 13 states where divorcing couples can't file for divorce through the use of a form. The Supreme Court created a task force several months ago to design the forms, and recently the task force presented its work to the full advisory board, which spent hours debating the new forms earlier this month and has yet to approve them.

Although other forms already exist and can be purchased on the Internet and at many office supply stores, many of them aren't currently admissible in Texas courts. A lobbyist for the Texas Family Law Foundation says the new forms might not work in court either because they're "riddled with errors." Not only that, but many judges won't accept any forms that haven't been completed with the aid of an attorney.

At the heart of the matter seems to be a debate over the opposition itself. The State Bar of Texas, which is vehemently against the new forms, has been accused of opposing them simply because they could lead to decreased business for family law attorneys in the state. But attorneys speaking on behalf of the state bar reject that claim, saying it would have little to no effect on attorneys. The people at a disadvantage, they say, would be the applicants themselves, who would stand to lose even more without the counsel of an attorney.

"They don't understand the law," said one district judge in reference to couples who might forgo an attorney and fill out paperwork instead. "They don't need a form. They need advice."

Source: Chron.com, "Texas Supreme Court mulls divorce forms," Will Weissert, April 13, 2012

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