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Texas gives green light to do-it-yourself divorce

The Texas Supreme Court this month approved a standard form which low-income couples can use to get divorced without the aid of a lawyer. The new divorce forms should be available for use some time next year, after a period of time to allow members of the public to submit comments. The decision to allow the use of the forms came on a 5-3 vote by the court; two justices dissented from the decision.

Divorcing without a lawyer is nothing new in Texas. Last year about 58,000 people filed for divorce in Texas courts without a lawyer. Nationwide, 48 other states already provide some form to allow couples to divorce on a do-it-yourself basis.

But divorcing without a lawyer is not a good idea for everyone. The forms themselves are designed only for those couples who have no children and who are filing an uncontested divorce. Even in these cases, not having the advice of an attorney can be risky. One concern, which the dissenting justices noted, is that many people might not be aware they have a right to a share in their spouse's retirement income. In addition, some people may not understand their rights with respect to property or debt division between the spouses.

In contested divorces, high asset divorces, or divorces in which children are involved, the advice of a lawyer is even more critical. Trying to go without a lawyer in these types of cases is downright dangerous. Issues like child custody, child visitation, and valuation and division of assets require a sophisticated understanding of the law in order to obtain an outcome that is fair and just to the divorcing spouse.

Source: Dallas Morning News, "Texas Supreme Court moves to allow lawyerless, 'do-it-yourself' divorces," Christy Hoppe, Nov. 14, 2012

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