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Some issues too complex for "do-it-yourself" Texas divorces

Residents of Texas often find that pinching pennies in one area can lead to an outpouring of expenses in another. Whether it's bargain-rate cowboy boots that lead to blisters and bunions later on, or a Houston short sale that produces a long list of home improvements, certain expenditures can have haunting effects if done too cheaply. Divorce and its attending issues, especially property division, are proving to be prominent examples of this category.

Last year, the Texas Supreme Court approved the availability of legal forms that allow "do-it-yourself" divorces for certain cases, particularly couples who don't have children and don't share real property. Ostensibly helpful for low-income state residents, the forms are actually available to Texans of all income levels. However, despite the different socioeconomic strata involved, many people utilizing these new forms share a common trait: lack of familiarity with the legal process.

Some are concerned with the wording of the forms, which could cause a person to accidentally sign-away rights to certain valuables such as a 401(k), for example. In other instances, unclear phrasing of certain questions could result in a person listing an inaccurate number of children. In addition, the forms could pose a problem to the courts themselves if people attempt to elicit legal answers from non-attorneys, such as court clerks or other employees.

If judges and non-qualified court workers are tasked, however unintentionally, with teaching the legal system to laypersons, the do-it-yourself divorce could transform into a do-it-yourself waiting game of interminable length. Even relatively common concepts, such as the difference between marital property and community property, could throw the property division aspect of divorce into a tailspin without proper counsel.

Source: The Houston Chronicle, "Divorce forms will burden lower courts with teaching litigants the legal system." Diana Friedman, Feb. 8, 2013

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Attorney Christine K. Lincoln

Christine K. Lincoln offers sound counsel and legal services to protect clients and their families facing divorce and other family disputes.

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