Texas divorce lawyers wept openly when the Texas Supreme Court approved a standardized form for uncontested divorces in Texas. Why would they weep? Well the forms are a substitute process to complete divorce through Texas family courts that clears out a lot of the complex legal petitions and forms in favor of something that a non-lawyer can fill out. So that means lawyers who run their practice selling cheap uncontested divorce services are likely going to lose some business.
Texas divorce attorney discusses uncontested divorce forms
The new forms are a twenty-five page bundle of instructions and forms that take you from start to finish. Now before you leave my website to go fill out your own forms let me tell you a little more about who can use them, who should use them and who shouldn’t use them.
The forms are aimed at reducing the need for legal assistance in divorce for people who have no children and little or no assets who mostly (but not always) only need legal assistance to navigate the complex legal system. By allowing those people to efficiently move through the legal divorce process it reduces the strain on the court system as well as legal aid services who often spend significant resources assisting people who have less need for help than families with children, domestic abuse issues and other complications that have a greater need for those free or low cost legal services.
Since we do a bad job of financial legal aid services in this state, this form process goes a long way towards helping alleviate some of that burden. I think that is one of the best things the Texas Supreme Court has done in a very long time.
Who can use the new uncontested divorce forms in Texas
The new forms are only available for uncontested divorce of married couples with no minor children (either in the marriage or suspected to have been born from an affair during the marriage) and no real estate. If you have retirement accounts started or continued during the marriage, like a 401k, you cannot use the form unless both spouses agree to let each one keep their own accounts. Under Texas law you can treat at least some of those accounts as community property and receive a division of those assets. If you want that division, you must follow the traditional divorce procedure. Basically these forms are only available to people who rent or live in subsidized housing with no children.
Who cannot use the new uncontested divorce forms for a Texas divorce
- If there are minor children of the spouses.
- The wife bore a child of another man at any time during the marriage.
- The wife is currently pregnant, regardless of who is the father.
- If you own any real property.
- If you have retirement accounts you want the court to divide.
- You intend to seek spousal maintenance (what we call alimony in Texas).
- Either spouse is part of an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding.
- Either spouse wishes to file for divorce on a fault ground, such as cruelty or adultery.
- There is dispute over personal property or debt (the divorce is not uncontested).
Who should use the new divorce forms to file without an uncontested divorce attorney in Texas
People who do not meet any of the exclusions can use them form and if everything is truly uncontested then using the forms and filing for divorce on your own isn’t a terrible idea. It’s always preferable to hire a Texas divorce attorney; but not everybody has the financial capability to hire a divorce lawyer.
However, even if you are in that financial situation you may still seriously need some legal assistance.
Who should not use the new uncontested divorce forms in Texas
If you qualify to use the forms you may benefit from obtaining a consultation with an attorney who can discuss your situation and help you strategize a course of action before, during and after divorce.
Anybody considering an uncontested divorce will decide how to split the financial assets of the marriage. Each spouse needs to fully understand the family’s financial picture. Often people think they know the assets and debts. They start down the path of a simple divorce process and halfway through discover hidden debt. Everything melts down and costs considerably more. A divorce lawyer can assist you in that process.
If there is domestic violence in the marriage, I think it is essential you hire a divorce attorney, whether you pay for a lawyer or can obtain help through a legal aid office. If you do not obtain protective orders you may be at risk for continuing violence during and after the divorce. Also, if you are the victim of domestic abuse you may receive a favorable division of marital property. You cannot obtain these favorable results with the new divorce forms.
If you know or suspect there is a lot of debt, it can be financially dangerous to go through an uncontested divorce without an attorney. Next to family violence, debt is the second or third biggest lasting legal and financial effect of divorce. A divorce lawyer can be the difference between starting down the path of financial stability.
Complex child custody issues
Sometimes children have special needs that need to be carefully considered in a divorce. Merely checking boxes on a form will not help you understand the future complications you may face. Understandably, some people think they will deal with the divorce today and the child custody problems tomorrow. While this view is 100% understandable it may not save money over the long term. Often addressing complex child custody issues after the divorce will make the resolution more expensive and harder on the children.
Although the parents may find an agreed solution to these issues the first step in reaching a good solution is to understand how parenting changes after a divorce and what Texas law may require to reach a solution. A divorce attorney can help you understand these issues and build an agreement that may produce a lasting solution.
Looking back on Texas uncontested divorce forms
We are almost a decade from the 2013 release of the approved uncontested divorce forms. What happened? Not a lot, really. Law libraries and family law clinics around the state enjoy a little less work on the easier uncontested divorces. Most divorce attorneys who represent Texans in low cost divorces continue to have roughly the same amount of work. Non-attorneys who compete, perhaps illegally, in the same space are still out there.
What we can takeaway from nine years of experience with these uncontested divorce forms is that they were a good idea but a lot of people still want an attorney to help them navigate the courts and advise them. Even when a divorce is not a fight it can take a lot of stress and frustration out of the process to hire an attorney to shoulder the legal work. People see value in an attorney’s expertise and experience beyond just guiding them through the courthouse. There will always be a market for the lowest cost option and these forms seem to fill that need at the lowest cost.