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Do-it-yourself divorce could become a DIY disaster

There's a wise old saying that goes something like this: A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. Texans could soon have the opportunity to test that theory out in court. From now until February 8, 2013, the Texas Supreme Court is accepting public comment on do-it-yourself divorce forms. The idea is that people who can't afford the usual route - hire an attorney who knows the process and can do it right the first time - will be able to get unhitched on the cheap.

This particular set of paperwork would only be used for the simplest of divorce cases; those with no child custody to settle and no property to divide. If the court gives the final go-ahead, Texas will be the 49th state to offer the simplified divorce process. The justices' intent is to help people of limited means get out of a failed relationship. There just isn't enough free, "pro bono" legal help available to help the 58,000 people who need it each year, the court wrote, and that leaves too many people left out of the process.

The line of people who think this is a very bad idea starts here. Perhaps most prominent is one of the Supreme Court justices, a former family court judge. She says people who could and should retain an attorney to unwind their marriages will take the easy way out and overload the court. Some district clerks worry that everyone will declare indigency to save money, and force the county to absorb the court costs. In Tarrant County, for example, that would be $271 per case at a minimum. Tarrant's clerk would rather the cases be handled by lawyers through pro bono representation programs.

Advocates for the poor who support the DIY program say 60 percent of people who need legal aid can't get it because there is no funding, and the weak economy and bad employment situation have made matters worse. The lawyers themselves are concerned about how this might turn out. A state bar association spokesman called do-it-yourself litigation "dangerous" and predicted that mistakes made by untrained people using the forms will make their legal situation worse.

Source: Fort Worth Star Telegram,"Texas Supreme Court simplifies paperwork for some divorce cases," Elizabeth Campbell, Nov. 26, 2012

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