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Barbara L. Jouette, Attorney, P.C.
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Boilerplate forms can lead to surprises in Texas divorces

A district county clerk is being accused of mishandling the divorce filings of many low income couples seeking a divorce in Tarrant County, Texas.

The problem, according to the lawsuit filed by the Texas Advocacy Project, is that standardized forms used by clients seeking to minimize costs often provide for payment terms that are inconsistent with other aspects of the process. In these cases, the parties sought relief from fees by filing for court recognition of their financial situation and reasonable believed that would be sufficient to excuse them from paying court filing costs. In contrast, standard divorce decree forms that those same people were using provided for self-payment of the court costs.

While the affected people and the Texas Advocacy Project say that the court clerk wrongly billed them for the court costs, the Assistant District Attorney's office said that the clerk was simply following the terms of the decrees.

Advocates argue that the judges who sign off on the decrees should check to make sure that litigants using pre-prepared forms know what they're singing on to and that the terms are consistent with other filings.

These cases are just one example of the potential risks involved when using boilerplate forms in a matter as important as a divorce. The terms of a divorce decree have lasting effects, and it is important that people understand what they are agreeing to before the process is finalized. While seeking comprehensive legal assistance is not financially viable for everyone in Texas who is seeking a divorce, consulting with a paid or pro bono attorney can help guard against surprises and financial problems down the road.

Source: Fort Worth Star Telegram, "Boiler-plate language snares low-income divorce litigants," Feb. 19, 2013.

More information about divorce in Texas can be found on our family law page.

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