by Rob L. Wiley
Do-it-yourself divorce holds considerable attraction for a number of people these days. Since we have what amounts to a no-fault divorce system, some Texans facing or contemplating a marital break-up see no reason to hire a lawyer to do something they believe they can do on their own. As ESPN’s Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
In our family law practice in the Houston office of Stewart & Wiley, increasingly we see clients who’ve been told by a family court judge to go see a lawyer before he or she will grant the divorce and approve the decree the parties want signed. This happens for two major reasons:
- the proposed order that the parties submit doesn’t comply with the Family Code; or
- The court has concerns that the proposed order doesn’t adequately protect one party.
Judges generally aren’t insisting in these instances that the parties hire lawyers and start over. The judge usually only wants the divorcing spouses to have a lawyer review the proposed decree for conformity with Texas law and an assurance that the order doesn’t unfairly disadvantage one person or the other.
For any situation that involves more than basic personal property (clothes, books, tools, the home entertainment system, etc.), trying a do-it yourself divorce is probably a bad idea. If the spouses have any real estate, they’re going to need specialized documents few non-lawyers can prepare. Having children almost always requires consultation with lawyers to make sure of compliance with the Family Code provisions on conservatorship (custody) and support. We’re fortunate in Montgomery and Harris Counties, the two counties in which we do most of our family law practice, to have conscientious judges who strive constantly to make sure children of parents going through divorce don’t suffer any more than necessary. The judges watch proposed orders carefully and will reject those they find unfair to children or to one spouse.
Often the problem relates to form. The parties may have been to mediation or negotiated their own agreement, but now have trouble converting it into the form judges expect. Sometimes, the parties have special circumstances that don’t easily mesh with the forms available commercially, on-line, or in local libraries.
Texas divorces do get granted without representation by a lawyer of either spouse. It’s very possible things will go off without a hitch and the spouses will save those legal fees. But, not always. Even simple cases can have wrinkles best ironed out by an experienced lawyer who knows what the court wants in the decree and can fix the problem quickly and with minimal expense.