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TMCNet:  Divorce Forms Could Endanger Property Rights, Says Texas Family Law Council

[November 19, 2012]

Divorce Forms Could Endanger Property Rights, Says Texas Family Law Council

DALLAS --(Business Wire)--

The Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas announced today that do-it-yourself divorce forms approved by the Texas Supreme Court last week could put the property rights of Texans at risk.

"Because of the potential for confusion and chaos in legal services posed by the use of forms without pro bono lawyers to interpret them," says Diana Friedman, Dallas family law attorney and Chair of the Section, "members plan to continue working on efforts to provide pro bono legal services to indigent citizens faced with the prospect of divorce."

The Court recently issued an order concerning do-it-yourself divorce forms to be approved by the Court for pro se representation in divorce cases throughout the state. Texas family law attorneys have reviewed the order and the divorce forms and found many inconsistencies.

The Section's full statement follows:

"While the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas opposes the Texas Supreme Court's order approving forms for pro se divorce, the Court's actual words affirm our basic premise that having an attorney in legal services to hanle a divorce is far superior to any possible form.

… the Court recognizes that obtaining legal representation, pro bono or otherwise, for every pro se litigant would be ideal …

We believe approval of the divorce forms is a rush to judgment by the Court. It is a decision that lacks vision and innovation by simply going along with what has been offered in other states. The problem is not too few pro bono lawyers to handle this situation. It's a failure of organization, of taking a systematic approach to serving the indigent population.

With this in mind, we will continue to mobilize the pro bono lawyers of Texas to increase efforts beginning with our award-winning Pro Bono Initiative of identifying attorneys willing to train and take pro bono divorce cases across the state.

We are ramping up the activities of our program Family Law Cares, with plans to team up with non-family lawyers in large-city firms, bring the use of technology to teamwork between lawyers and the state's legal services providers and utilize recent law graduates and law students.

The Court's order mentions that 58,000 Texas divorces were filed pro se in 2011. We believe that approving Court-sanctioned divorce forms will increase that number. Some people divorcing with the use of forms could wind up waiving their property rights or other rights because they don't understand the process. It could also lead to clogged courtrooms and a slow-down of the civil justice system around the state because judges will have to take their time to explain what attorneys do now.

If you start with divorce forms sanctioned by the Supreme Court, then more and more people will rely on forms. If legal representation is the most important part of the system, you may still have some who divorce using forms, but more people will have the advantage of a real, live attorney at this most difficult and emotional time of their lives."

The Texas Family Law Council is the governing body of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. The Section is made up of about 6,000 attorneys statewide who handle divorce and other family law-related matters.

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