Are the recently approved pro se divorce forms effective immediately, or will the Texas Supreme Court wait to receive public comments and possibly modify the forms before people can use them?
The State Bar of Texas Family Law Section wants to know, and chairwoman Diana Friedman (pictured) posed the question in a Nov. 15 letter to Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.
According to high court spokesman Osler McCarthy, the forms are effective immediately. Trish McAllister, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, says she posted the forms on a Listserv for Texas legal aid providers, and the plan is to post them online for the public at TexasLawHelp.org, a site that helps low-income people with legal problems.
“It doesn’t seem like a prudent way to approach it,” says Friedman after hearing that news from Texas Lawyer.
There’s a 60-day waiting period to finalize a divorce. If the forms are effective now, but the court anticipates changes, “it would mean that the forms may change in the middle of a divorce filed using these forms between now and then. Depending on the comments received, those changes may be substantive and affect a pending action,” Friedman wrote in her letter.
“It would cause some confusion for litigants and cause some problems,” Friedman says in an interview. For example, she notes the Final Decree of Divorce form awards retirement benefits to the earning spouse, which could be unfair to the other spouse. In a dissenting statement to the high court’s Nov. 13 order that approved the forms, Justice Debra Lehrmann highlighted that retirement issue. Friedman says if the high court amends the form, it could substantially change the outcome of a divorce.
“I think that’s an issue the court will receive a lot of comment, both from the public and from attorneys, about,” Friedman says about the retirement division. She adds, “I hope they take [comments] seriously and give then due consideration.”
-- Angela Morris