I read an interesting blog post today from Attorney Shannon Cavers of the Houston Texas Divorce & Family Law Attorney Blog. The blog reviews the buyer beware issues of do-it-yourself divorce kits. Attorney Cavers warns: "If you received a medical diagnosis requiring surgical intervention, you would not opt to operate on yourself. The same holds true in law."
Just this morning in the 311th District Court of Harris County, I personally witnessed a pro se litigant present a final decree of divorce. The source of the litigant’s forms were RapidLaw, an internet site offering divorce, adoption, and bankruptcy services across the U.S.
The family law judges and court staff in Harris County bend over backwards to assist pro se litigants. However, they may not give legal advice to pro se parties. The forms were not prepared to properly dispense with the parties’ 401-K and retirement benefits. Apparently, the documents were insufficient enough to spur the judge urge the litigant to reconsider presentation of the decree as-is. The Judge asked the pro se party where she received the forms. Her response was Rapid Law. The Judge next asked the party if she paid for the forms, and she answered yes. Finally, the Judge directed the bailiff to photocopy the instructions from RapidLaw – presumably to present the information to the State Bar of Texas.
Whether you are downloading forms from one of the myriad of websites offering divorce documents or buying a kit from Barnes & Noble, the consumer should beware that a generic form usually cannot adequately address your unique situation within the confines of your state’s specific rules and laws.
If you cannot afford an attorney, consider the following alternatives: 1) Hire an attorney for unbundled services to review or prepare documents for your case; 2) Utilize the New Hampshire Judicial Branch’s self-help center for forms and information; or, 3) Call the New Hampshire Bar Association’s law line held on the second Wednesday of each month from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 800-868-1212.