Recent decision might simplify uncontested divorce process in Texas

It has been said that divorce can be as simple - or as difficult - as the couple makes it. When matters are heated and court involvement is necessary, things tend to get a bit "messy;" instead of having control of your own destiny, the judge makes decisions for you, something that can leave both parties ultimately unsatisfied. Using an alternative dispute resolution method like mediation or negotiation can sometimes result in a more workable solution and has the added benefit of keeping matters private.

A recent decision by the Texas Supreme Court provides another option for some couples: a standardized, "do-it-yourself" uncontested divorce form. The boilerplate forms are not yet in use, but they have been released for public comment prior to their planned introduction in the next year or so.

Standardized form could help couples divorce without an attorney

The idea behind the form is to help relatively low-income, childless couples divorce without the need for protracted litigation or the assistance of counsel. The court is adamant that a "do-it-yourself" form is definitely not a "one size fits all" proposition, though, and it is certainly not a substitute for legal guidance.

Several other states already use similar forms, and Texas courts began developing their own tailored form after seeing an uptick in residents trying to adapt forms from other jurisdictions. In the last year alone, nearly 60,000 Texans filed for divorce without an attorney, many relying on forms they found on the internet.

Numerous potential pitfalls

Obviously, proceeding through the court system without a skilled lawyer by your side is a risky proposition. The Texas Family Law Foundation has expressed concerns about possible pitfalls in the use of such forms, and is reminding those in the legal community and across the state that a form is no substitute for the assistance of an experienced lawyer, particularly given that each couple's divorce and circumstances are unique, and no two couples will have the same exact situation, something that a standardized form cannot account for.

In addition, there are several benefits to working with an experienced family law attorney. They are familiar with many different types of cases and can provide guidance on the best way to proceed. They can assist with:

  • Child custody arrangements
  • Child support
  • Debt allocation
  • Spousal support/alimony
  • Property division
  • Retirement orders
  • Real estate documents
  • Other divorce-related issues

It is possible that certain forms may make the process easier, but there is still a complex maze of paperwork and red tape to work through. An attorney is also objective, something that is especially important in cases of divorce where emotions can cloud judgment. Many couples initially feel they are emotionally stable enough to handle a divorce on their own, but this can sometimes result in hasty or unwise decisions as tempers flare once the process has begun.

For divorces that involve a complicated distribution of finances or property, an attorney has knowledge, experience and access to a wide variety of experts and consultants with specialized knowledge, who can help obtain a favorable financial outcome. In those cases, boilerplate forms are particularly ill-advised, since they could result in the loss of important financial assets.

A family law attorney can also ensure that no proverbial stones are left unturned, having the skill and resources to identify hidden assets, value hard-to-quantify assets like family businesses or collectibles, and propose an equitable division of property.

Change coming?

While there may soon be an option for couples in Texas seeking a simplified uncontested divorce, this option is definitely not for everyone, and even if the forms are approved, they won't be available for at least a year. In addition to helping navigate the legal pitfalls, an attorney can provide knowledge and guidance that a form cannot. An experienced attorney ultimately protects the client's interests during a difficult and trying time.