ABA Journal


Family Law

Family Lawyers Object to New Pro Se Divorce Forms Approved by Texas Supremes

Nov 16, 2012, 12:00 pm CST


I figured in Texas, those would look like a set of dueling pistols.

By B. McLeod on 2012 11 16, 1:38 pm CST

So these lawyers feel the court's job is to protect their incomes? Instead of advocating for more accessibility in the court system, they would rather the courts keep everything complicated so that people must continue to pay lawyers. People should be able to proceed pro se in any matter feasible. Why should a lawyer be entitled to a cut, especially in simple cases? I have one word for these family lawyers: Scum.

By Matthew Borowski on 2012 11 16, 3:51 pm CST

I think it depends upon whether the forms are just "fill in the blank if you know how" documents, or are accompanied by some instruction. Better yet, they could by interactive online forms with data entry pages and macros to enable the user to put the information in the correct place. In Georgia, we have forms available online. We also have an interactive Child Support Worksheet available to the public online, with data entry and macro enabled computations. Of course, our Family Law Bar encourages litigants to at least review their self prepared documents with an attorney to protect themselves from mistakes. I think most people would agree that an hour spent with an expert can greatly improve their chances of getting their documents through the courts efficiently.

By Atlanta Family Law Attorney on 2012 11 16, 4:35 pm CST

This seems like a win-win situation if you haven't built your practice on escalating the disagreements between divorcing couples. Offer a flat fee consultation and fill-in-the-forms service. t

By BMF on 2012 11 16, 4:45 pm CST

Because I don't know family law, I'll give the practitioners the benefit of the doubt in their objection to the forms, only because I've seen the same problem in my field (bankruptcy) where I do believe that simplifying forms and giving detailed instructions lulls some debtors into thinking they can handle the process on their own, when in fact there are so many legal issues implicated by every disclosure they make. It's rare to see a pro se filer get through bankruptcy successfully, even when they have no dependents, no spouse, and no property.

By mmm on 2012 11 16, 6:13 pm CST

We will always have pro se litigants, whether or not they can afford an attorney. I would rather they use forms approved by the courts than the garbage they find on the Internet.

By Bob Sohns on 2012 11 16, 7:06 pm CST

Response to Comment No. 2

People can always file pro se, the question is whether the court should be giving people the false sense that it's a feasible idea by providing forms. Pro se litigants clog up dockets and require far more court intervention as they are usually unprepared and have to be spoon fed even the simplest of tasks. Your comment about protecting incomes is kind of off the mark as most attorneys who work with lower income people (myself included) make very little off these types of cases.

By CJ on 2012 11 16, 7:53 pm CST

We as lawyers must respect every person's God given right to royally screw themselves by charging a competitive price to untangle the mess they make acting pro se.

By RutgersLawGrad on 2012 11 18, 4:29 pm CST

It seems to me that the cases in which litigants are likely to benefit from hiring lawyers are those where custody, support or property division issues are contested. In such cases, the courts have considerable discretion, and an experienced lawyer who knows how the local judges approach such issues is an asset. In cases without custody, support and property issues, the lawyer basically explains the process to the client and does the paperwork.

Based on what we can glean from the story above, the forms the court has generated are for cases that do not involve child custody or property issues, but a simple, in rem order that dissolves the marriage status. If the parties can read and write, there is no reason to suppose they can't handle that proceeding adequately on their own, and by giving them forms that outline the necessary information, the court is effectively streamlining its own processes. I think this makes a lot of sense. In fact, I know a few colleagues who posit that states should create a concept of "common law divorce" for couples in this posture, especially those states that recognize "common law marriage." From what I have seen over the course of many years, it is really the common practice of marrying pro se that gets people in trouble. THAT is when they really need the lawyer.

By B. McLeod on 2012 11 18, 7:57 pm CST

Atlanta Family Law Attorney @ 3 brings up a good point about the availability of instructions and online forms. However, in CA, there are three types of divorce forms, all which have differing requirements, and all of which can be used by pro se parties. Despite the availability of instructions for all three types, most pro se petitioners and respondents STILL screw them up. And the mistakes aren't necessarily in the more complex aspects of the forms, such as the financials. Some of the more common errors include failing to hit the essential check boxes or date the forms, bad serves by "friends" of the litigants in order to avoid costs of service, improper attestations or outright lies in declarations, and wasting the clerks' time trying to file papers that fail to conform to procedure--and then getting PO'd at the clerk because the clerk won't give them legal advice. It's not unusual in some CA family courts to wait in line 4 hours to file papers if you are a pro se litigant, Given the sheer volume of people who can't afford attorneys in a divorce, it makes sense for the courts to attempt to streamline this caseload using forms. On the other hand, since many people who fill out these forms are unaware of the legal implications, and may have literacy issues, I think that reasonably priced review and advice for pro se clients is one area where newly-minted attorneys could find a niche market that would provide a valuable service to the courts.

By BMF on 2012 11 19, 3:56 am CST

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