AUSTIN (KXAN) - It's a complicated issue, divorce. Dividing property, deciding the future of children's lives -- while handling the pain and anger that usually goes along with it -- is a stressful process at best. In the mix are courts and attorneys -- the latter of which can cost thousands of dollars, something not all divorcing couples have.
What about those cases where divorces are uncontested and the couples want to represent themselves? Getting it over quickly and easily may seem like a good idea.
The issue of a simplified process is being wrangled over by the Texas Access to Justice Commission, State Bar of Texas and the Texas Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued a letter to State Bar president Bob Black , which now kicks the forms review to the Supreme Court Advisory Committee.
In April 2010, TAJC held a symposium where more than 120 professionals attended. Its purpose was to:
- Determine the impact self-represented litigants have on Texas courts;
- Explore how courts, legal aid organizations, court staff and others can work with self-represented litigants; and
- Develop strategies for self-represented litigants and court interaction.
The outcome of the symposium was the March 2011 creation of a 13-member Supreme Court Uniform Forms Task Force. It includes members who represent the judiciary, private bar, legal services attorneys, court clerks and administrators and law librarians.
The law and its system are built on paperwork -- all "t's" to be crossed and "i's" dotted. Simplified forms may be available online these days, free or at a cost, but they vary in format and not all courts in Texas accept them.
To that end, the purpose of the task force was to:
- determine best practices for creation and distribution of forms
- draft and implementation plan
- monitor local efforts to create, amend or modify forms
- consult with and get input from legal professionals and organizations
- develop models of uniform pleading and order forms, to be evaluated and approved by the Supreme Court for statewide use.
Some divorcing couples choose self-representation -- not the ideal situation for the court system. According to Wednesday's Supreme Court letter, six million Texans qualify for legal aid, but funds to serve them are not available, nor is enough pro bono work, despite the fact that Texas attorneys do their share of it.
The Supreme Court expects its advisory committee to announce its recommendations in April, and it will begin to review such in May. At that time, the court will approve the forms developed only if "they are substantively correct and are reasonably calculated to accomplish the goal of greater access to courts," according to the letter.
Coming on the heels of a letter sent by the State Bar of Texas to the court on Jan. 5 -- which asked that the task force suspend work on the issue of uniform documents because there seemed to be no consensus -- in its Wednesday letter, the Texas Supreme Court encouraged the Texas State Bar to present its recommendations to the advisory committee and the court, saying all who wish to participate in creation of the new forms will be heard.
Bottom line is that the court hopes to help those who lack the funds to hire lawyers have a "reasonable chance to vindicate their rights in a court of law."
In an article published Tuesday in the Texas Tribune , one opinion expressed was that family law attorneys see problems with having forms widely available. Judge Judy Warne was concerned that people who were "too arrogant" to hire an attorney would have access to the forms, even though they could afford to hire a lawyer.
"They don't know what to do with them (the forms)," Warne said to the Tribune. "They think this is the magic form that's going to fix everything."
Divorce attorney Charles Hodges told the Tribune what is needed is more legal aid to the poor. He said, "We don't need forms, we need people out there."
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