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Why this Toronto lawyer created software that helps you fill out divorce forms

A divorce can be an emotional, messy and expensive process, complicated by the abundance of forms one needs fill out depending on the situation.

To help streamline that process in a country where about 40 per cent of first marriages end in divorce, Toronto lawyer Kathryn Hendrikx has created software that helps people save time and money.

The software launch is timely — many lawyers, including Hendrikx, say they see a spike in divorces after the holidays.

“You don’t know whether your matter is going to cost $3,000 or $30,000,” said Hendrikx, noting retaining a lawyer alone can cost thousands.

Several years ago, Hendrikx came up with a cheaper solution while filling out her tax returns.

Her website is inspired by TurboTax, the popular software used to fill out tax returns in Canada.

TurboTax for divorce

“Online Divorce Forms” is just that — users log in to a secure website and answer a series of questions about their situation without any legal jargon. That allows the program to tailor forms an individual can fill out online.

Traditionally, those forms are available at the courthouse, which means someone going through a divorce has to take time off, go to court to pick up the forms and manually fill them out. Now, that process is automated with Hendrikx’s website.

“Online Divorce Forms” will launch in beta form in early February. It will also be available to legal clinics. Hendrikx and her team have not decided on a final price, but she says it will be less than $200.

“It allows people to work at their own pace. It allows them to process the information,” said Hendrikx.

She says there’s a lot of information to digest, considering family law touches on dozens of provincial acts.

“You’re talking about pensions, RSPs, titles on houses, your children’s rights, domestic violence.”

Self-represent litigants

The concept is especially important as more people represent themselves in family law, according to Richard Teicher, a lawyer with Downtown Legal Services, a clinic that helps low-income people navigate the legal system.

The federal government estimates 64 to 74 per cent of family law litigants go to court without a lawyer.

“There is a crisis, an access to justice crisis, in family law,” said Teicher.

“If you can reduce the complexity, clear away the clutter, make things easier for people, why not?”

CBC

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CBC

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