Plenty of websites and self-help books claim to provide free divorce forms and instructions for tackling the legal process yourself. But even those typically recommend consulting an attorney.The Texas Supreme Court says "it is always best to hire a lawyer" to handle a divorce, but the justices have approved standard forms that spouses can use to end a marriage when no children or property, such as a house, is involved.The 18-month project to develop the forms has been contentious, with leaders of the State Bar of Texas and its family law section opposed to the result. Their concerns were heard by the task force that devised the forms.The court approved the documents Nov. 13 on a 5-3 vote. (bit.ly/SbfVXZ)In an accompanying statement, the court said it "firmly believes that forms are an integral part of any effort to aid indigent litigants."There's no income limit for who can use the forms. The key consideration is that the divorce be uncontested.This is one attempt to meet a growing need for civil legal services by people who can't shoulder the cost of attorneys or don't qualify for the limited assistance available through legal-aid offices.Critics argue that it would be better to find more lawyers who will represent indigent clients for free than have more divorcing couples represent themselves, but the justices said "the resources needed to meet the demand are simply not available."In 2011, almost 58,000 family law cases were filed by individuals without lawyers, the court said. Most probably couldn't afford a lawyer.Justice Debra Lehrmann, a former family court judge in Tarrant County, warned that more people might try to represent themselves when they need lawyers.She and the other dissenters also said there should be a provision to divide pension and retirement benefits instead of awarding them all to one spouse.That suggestion's worth examining. The court is taking public comments until Feb. 1.
Marisa Secco, rules attorney, P.O. Box 12248, Austin, TX 78711, or email@example.com