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by reginald.hirsch@yob.com


Locating family law litigation resources on the Internet can be both exciting and challenging. Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet and the rapidly expanding acquisition of information, today's resources may be become tomorrow's trash. Due to publication deadlines the sites provided in this article are complete as of January 1999. It is hopeful that the information provided in this article will be useful to the family practitioner attempting to utilize the resources of the Web in his day-to-day practice.

Where to Begin

Internet searches can be particularly difficult because unlike a library there is no Dewey Decimal system. Instead, resources are catalogued by a number of web search engines.

A Good Beginning - Web Search Engines

Choosing a starting point from among the various engines is really a matter of preference. Currently, one of the larger information data bases is AltaVista, located at http://www.altavista.digital.com. AltaVista contains over thirty million pages found on over one quarter of a million servers, as well as over four million articles from over ten thousand use net groups. It is accessed approximately eighteen million times per day. Other large web crawller search engines are Open Text at http://index.opentext.net, Lycos at http://www.lycos.com, InfoSeek at http://www.infoseek.com, Magellan at http://www.mckinley.com, HotBot at http://www.hotbot.com and Excite at http://www.excite.com. DejaNews at http://www.dejanews.com is a data source bank for internet news groups.

Another large Internet search engine Yahoo! at http://www.yahoo.com. Unlike some robotic search engines, which systematically catalog every site they can locate, Yahoo! is a well organized and diverse directory compiled from individual submissions, which may be searched by key words or by navigating its directory tree.

Meta Search Engine Tools

One of my favorite tools for searching the Internet is WebFerret, available as a demo at http://www.ferretsoft.com. This program quickly runs your search through a number of different search engines and lists the results in a columnar fashion. The best meta search engine software that I have discovered is WebSeeker Legal Edition, located at http://www.ffg.com. This program is extremely fast and enables you to launch your search across multiple internet databases, either directly from its interface or by highlighting a word or phrase in a document. WebSeeker Legal Edition sells for $149.00 and has a demo version. (Disclosure: the company provided the author with a demo key.)

Search-Engine Language - Boolean Basics

To make your search easier, use these Boolean Basics to eliminate hours of unnecessary research and place you closer to the specific relevant sites you are trying to access. The basic Boolean terms are "AND," "OR," "NOT," "NEAR," and "Parentheses ()."

AND: The use of the word "AND" ensures that the terms you specifically request appear on the selected sites. In other words, "law AND familylaw" will shorten your search to pages on the Web which are restricted to Familylaw, not just law in general.

OR: If you are searching for two specific terms, use the word "OR" between both terms. An example would be "Custody OR Divorce." Then you will have access to both types of law.

NOT: The use of the word "NOT" will eliminate certain words from your search selections. In the event you know that you do not need the Texas Child Support Guidelines, while researching custody issues, use of the word "NOT" in conjunction with the words "TEXAS CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES" narrows your selections to the more specific sources.

NEAR: Each Search Engine recognizes the use of the word "NEAR" differently and a few sources do not let the user utilize it at all. Use of the work "NEAR" lets the users find words located within a certain number of characters of each other.

PARENTHESES: Using parentheses () will enable you to further eliminate unnecessary material from your search. An example of the use of parentheses is "NOT (support AND visitation)" This will organize your search to avoid pages with either support or visitation references.

In his book "The Insiders Guide to Mental Health Resources Online" published by Guilford Press, John M. Grohol summarizes the search tools as follows at page 23:

Search Engines and the Search Tools They Support


N/A2default3N/AN/A"..."+ /*host: image:
link: text:
title: Ud:
or &
or (...)
InfoseekN/AdefaultN/A[....]"..."+ /N/AN/A
anddefaultnotadj"..."+/N/Alink: site:
url: title:
LycosForm based4N/AN/AN/A&N/A
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title: first
heading: Url:
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Different search engines use different combinations of terms to get the same result. For example, Alta Vista uses just plain not, while Excite requires the words and not to be used instead. Within individual search engines, they may also allow different operators to get the same result (e.g., AltaVista allows you to use either and or the ampersand symbol (&) to specify the Boolean term and).

1Field -- Search engines may allow searching on technical fields such as anchor, applet, or host, which are not relevant for most readers.

2N/A -- Not applicable. This operator is not supported by this search engine.

3Default -- This is the default operator used when you type In two words together. For example, "teenage depression" will be searched for as "teenage or depression" in AltaVista, but Open Text will interpret the query as "teenage and depression".

4Form based -- Lycos uses a specialized form you fill out on their Web site in order to specify these options.

Governmental Data Bases for Family Lawyers

Often individuals in the divorce process require information regarding social security benefits and other such information. The Department of Health and Human Services is located at http://www.hhs.gov. Social security information can be found at http://www.ssa.gov. Because of security issues, the Social Security Administration will provide your Personal Earnings Benefit Estimate Statement (PEBES) by mail in four weeks. Additional sites with valuable information are the Department of Commerce Census Bureau's online look-up service at http://cedr.lbl.gov/cdrom/doc/lookup_doc.html; the U.S. Bureau of Census at http://www.census.gov; the Treasury Department's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation at http://www.pbgc.gov (for information regarding guaranteed pensions) and the Department of Treasury at http://www.ustreas.gov. http://www.Fed2u.com/ seeks to be a one-stop shopping place for federal data. Finally, a federal site that provides all you want to know and more can be found at http://www.fedstats.gov.

Practitioners may find IRS forms at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/cover.html. 1998 Tax Charts are online for Employed Persons at http://www.tafls.org/tax.html and for self-employed persons at http://www.tafls.org/selftax.html. If you are having difficulty with day-to-day practice with federal government agencies the ultimate jump site is, of course, http://www.whitehouse.gov. If you have commonly requested information regarding federal services you might examine http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/Services. The Harris County District Court's home page, which was recognized as outstanding by the New York Times, has been moved to http://www.co.harris.tx.us/~hcdc/. The Harris County District Clerk's office is now online at http://www.co.harris.tx.us/dclerk/default.html. The revised Texas Rules of Evidence, effective March 1, 1998, are available at http://www.yob.com/TRE-97.txt.

Family Law Related Sites

One of the leading jump sites on the World Wide Web (WWW) is DivorceNet, located at http://www.DivorceNet.com. DivorceNet provides both divorce and post-divorce information and assistance with a state by state resource center, a reading room and library. This excellent site contains information regarding military personnel and federal employees, marital assets searches, paternity establishment, international paternal abduction information and a number of topical areas regarding custody, financial, grandparent and child removal issues.

Another outstanding site, and one of my favorites, is http://www.versuslaw.com which contains recent Texas Appellate decisions and an easy to use search engine. This database is now charging for their services. Another comprehensive site is http://www.divorce-online.com.

The American Bar Association has a legal research site at http://www.abanet.org/lawlink/home.html. The American Psychological Association maintains a home page at http://www.apa.org. While not strictly a family law site, a new site for generic searches and really a smorgasbord of legal sites and search engine can be found at http://www.lawresearch.com. Another relatively new and developing site supporting all 50 states and analysis of family law is http://www.divorcesource.com. Child Custody Resources State by State is an extensive list of child custody resources indexed by state, with a site-wide search interface, at http://www.custodysource.com/.

The Texas Family Law Organizations

The author is proud to have contributed to a number of local and state bar associations for the various Texas family law organizations. With the outstanding work of Marilyn Gore, our faithful and dedicated Web Designer and guidance from the internet surfer Harry Tindall and the historian of all universal matters Richard Orsinger, the folowing web pages have enriched the family law practitioner.

The very continuous organizational Texas website was the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists, affectionately known as TAFLS. For the first time we had a site that provided not only current information for Texas Family Lawyers and even a chat area to ask about current legal issues, but also a searchable database containing e-mail addresses and other contact information of Texas Family Law Specialists who are members of TAFLS. The site is found at http://www.tafls.org. (I am ignoring the State Bar of Texas abortive privatized family law informational site, which after much attempt to get going had the plug pulled).

The second site was an even more ambitious project: the State Bar of Texas Famiy Law Section. This project, because of the vast resources and committee structure, was a tremendous undertaking. The result, in my humble opinion, is one of the outstanding Sections sites in the nation and beautifully created. Visit it at http://www.sbotfam.org.

Recently the local Houston Bar Association Family Law Section has begun the development of a web site at www.hbafam.org which will feature the always provocative David Gray summary of recent Texas cases and other local information. One outstanding feature of this site is an online version of Judge Nathan Hecht's article A Guide to the 1999 Texas Discovery Rules Revisions, completely crossreferenced and hyperlinked to the 1999 revisions to the discovery rules of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

Commercial Research Libraries

Recently the pre-eminent commercial sites Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw have gone to internet services. These sites are commercially based and provide a service to the general and family law practitioner. The rates vary and the State Bar of Texas provides reduced rates (buying in bulk) for the small firm or individual practitioner. The days of libraries of old books filling racks of shelves are soon to be a thing of the past. The Westlaw site is found at http://www.westlaw.com and the Lexis site can be found at http://www.lexis.com.

Electronic Library Sites

Other valuable tools for Family Lawyers are the various web electronic library sites. The State of Texas maintains a Texas Law Organizations Resource Center at http://www.txlaw.com/welcome.html. The University of Texas Law School is located at http://www.utexas.edu/law/ and the Jamail Center for Legal Research is at http://www.law.utexas.edu. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has published it cases since September 1996 at http://www.window.texas.gov/txgovinf/txcoca.html. The State of Texas Law Librarians' Home Page is http://suefaw.home.texas.net/. Sue Fawcett also maintains a comprehensive index of Texas related web sites at http://suefaw.home.texas.net/texas.html. The University of Houston Law Center can be found at http://www.lawlib.uh.edu/. The University of Texas School of Law--Law Library is located at http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/library.htm. Uniform Laws and ModelActs can be found at http://www.lawsource.com/also/usa.cgi?usm.

Electronic News

A variety of electronic news sources are available over the Internet. The New York Times on the Web maintains a fax service at http://www.nytimesfax.com and the New York Times itself is located at http://www.nytimes.com. The New York Times is a particularly good resource because it is available early in the morning in electronic form prior to home delivery and in addition maintains a daily report on computer information in a section called Cyberspace, available only on the Web. USA Today maintains a financial site at http://www.usatoday.com. CNN Interactive can be located at http://www.cnn.com and Microsoft's joint venture with NBC can be found at http://www.msnbc.com.

Financial Sites

As many family lawyers know, sources for financial information are invaluable. Some major resources for family lawyers are PC Quote, which provides updated quotes regarding stocks at http://www.pcquote.com; http://www.bloomberg.com; Homebuyer's Fair Welcome, which deals with relocation, cost of living and moving costs, at http://www.homefair.com; the Bank Rate Monitor's infoBank Homepage at http://www.bankrate.com for bank rate information; Money Online Personal Finance Center at http://pathfinder.com and the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition at http://interactive4.wsj.com.

The Department of Labor has finally published "QDROs: The Division of Pensions Through Qualified Domestic Relations Order" at http://gatekeeper.dol.gov/dol/pwba/public/pubs/qdro.htm. While not purely a financial site, an important reference site for QUADRO's Qualified Domestic Relations Orders is http://www.qdro.com. One of my favorite sites for QUADRO's is found at http://www.pbgc.gov/divorce3.htm#1. While this site is for after a plan is taken over by the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.), its explanation of terms and forms is very useful. Mr. Rick Johnson, a Houston CPA, has opened a web page detailing his services for preparing QUADROs and other related work as http://www.qdrosvc.com.

Credit Information and The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Warning: The following information if improperly used can result in civil fines and criminal penalties.

One question I am repeatedly asked is about the right in discovery to access a an opposing parties/spouses credit report from an internet source. The answer lies in examining the the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, a copy of which can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fcra.htm.

Attached is a summary of the relevant sections of the FCRA.

One way to obtain credit information on an opposing party/spouse would be to obtain a release and authorization similar to a medical release. Additionally I believe it may for inventory and other reasons to obtain authorized credit information on your own client for discovery purposes and to accurately disclose financial information concerning assets and debt.

There are a couple of commercial internet sites available currently to obtain this information. First I recommend though you obtain a Class 2 VeriSign Digital Certificate to protect the information being transmitted over the internet. More information regarding the VeriSign Digital ID can be obtained at http://digitalid.verisign.com or http://www.verisign.com.

Then you might explore the internet credit reporting site http://www.experian.com formerly TRW. This site at the time of preparation of this paper (October 26, 1997) was temporarily down but did provide for email notification of when it would be back online. However your author found a site that would allow access to the database at http://www.qspace.com. A request for your credit report costs and Class 2 VeriSign Digital ID is less than $13.00. A sample credit report can be found at http://qspace.com/sample_report/report.html.


A search for experts over the Internet can provide the family law attorney with a significant amount of information. There are a number of sites that are helpful with regard to the location and qualification of experts. Some of my favorite sites are http://www.experts.com, which provides a database of information concerning experts and consultants in all fields; expert.www or http://www.expertpages.com, which is a directory of experts and expert witnesses and consultants and allows for expert selection by state; and Lawinfo at http://www.lawinfo.com, an online source for locating both attorneys and legal resources, including expert witnesses and private investigators. While you're are looking for experts, how about making an examination of your opposing counsel - try http://www.legal-web.com. Appraisers, which are often of interest to family law practitioners, may be located at http://www.appraiser.com.

Mental Health Resources

Because a large number of family law cases involve children or mental health issues, internet sources of information about mental health professionals and their resources can be invaluable to the family law practitioner.

A. Organizations

A number of organizations serve mental health professionals. Some of those organizations provide more information than others, but here are a few of my favorites: the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at http://www.aacap.org; the American Academy of Neurology at http://www.aan.com; the American Counseling Association, which provides information regarding counseling, at http://www.counseling.org; the American Medical Association at http://www.ama-assn.org; the American Psychiatric Association at http://www.psych.org; the American Psychoanalytic Association at http://www.apsa.org/; the American Psychological Association at http://www.apa.org; the National Association of Social Workers at http://www.naswdc.org; the National Institute of Mental Health at http://www.nimh.nih.gov; the National Mental Health Association at http://www.nmha.org; the Psychiatry Star from University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry at http://www.psych.med.umich.edu; the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute at http://cpmcnet.columbia.edu/dept/pi;the University of California at Davis at http://neuroscience.ucdavis.edu/psychiatry/index.html; the Institute of Psychiatry of London University at http://www.iop.bpmf.ac.uk; and The Hospital Web, which lists over 80 hospitals with web servers, at http://neuro-www.mgh.harvard.edu/hospitalweb.nclk.

B. Mental Health Resources

As previously indicated, John M. Grohol's book, "The Insider's Guide to Mental Health Resources Online," published by The Guilford Press is an outstanding resource for mental health resources for lawyers. As you can see from a review of the following web sites, there is a tremendous amount of information available over the Internet. Mr. Grohol has provided many of the foregoing sites through his book and I strongly advise its purchase. Mr. Grohol maintains his own web site at http://www.grohol.com. An additional site for professionals is maintained at http://www.cmhc.com.

The family law practitioner often encounters mental health diagnostic code from such sources as the DSM-IV, ICD-9 and ICD 10. A number of sites provide helpful information on these codes. If you need to look up a diagnostic related group code, check the site at http://econ-www.newcastle.edu.au/hsrg/hypertexts/andrg.html. For DSM-IV diagnoses and codes see http://uhs.bsd.uchicago.edu/dr-bob/tips/dsm4a.html. For an alphabetical listing and for diagnostic codes the site is http://uhs.bsd.uchicago.edu/dr-bob/tips/dsm4n.html. The Health Services Research Group provides a web address for ICD-9-CM at http://econ-www.newcastle.edu.au/hsrg/hypertexts/icd9cm.html. For ICD-10, see the World Health Organization site at http://www.who.org/programmes/mnh/mnh/ems/icd10.

Dr. Philip W. Long maintains an outstanding enclyclopedia of mental disorders, research and bibliographies at http://www.mentalhealth.com. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Center for Mental Health Services provides a site at http://www.mentalhealth.org. Information regarding Sigmund Freud is available at http://www.interport.net/nypsan, and Carl Jung has a home page dedicated at http://www.cgjung.com.

There is often an alcohol or substance abuse issue in family law cases, and there are a number of helpful sites available on the internet that contain information, legislation news and updates in these areas. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration maintains a governmental site at http://www.samhsa.gov. The previously mentioned http://www.health.org is the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. Join Together Online at http://www.jointogether.org is another fine resource. A forensic psychiatry and law on line web site is maintained at http://ua1vm.ua.edu/~jhooper. Psychology, a referenced journal on all areas of psychology as well as cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioral biology, artificial intelligence, robotics/vision, linguistics and philosophy can be found at http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/psyc.html.

C. Drugs and Medication

The family lawyer is often called upon to examine a party's medical records and medication records. There is a vast amount of information online regarding medication and pharmacology. Some of the better sites are The Merck Manual, located at http://www.merck.com, and the Pharmaceutical Information Network site at http://pharminfo.com. The RxList, a searchable reference of over 4,000 drugs, is locaterd at http://www.rxlist.com. Finally, if you are feeling as though you are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and trauma the National Center for PTSD is located at http://www.dartmouth.edu/dms/ptsd.

D. Where Mental Health Professionals Discuss

One of the better sites where mental health professionals continue to exchange information and have conversations is Behavior Online at http://www.behavior.net. Psychiatry On-Line is an electronic psychiatry journal edited by Dr. Ben Green at http://www.cityscape.co.uk/users/ad88/psych.htm.

E. Research

Some of the better research tools used by mental health professionals are commercial, fee-based sites. HealthGate MEDLINE is located at http://www.healthgate.com/HealthGate/MEDLINE/search.shtml; the MEDLINE Database is located at http://muscat.gdb.org/repos/medl; and the Mescape MEDLINE Search web page is located at http://www.medscape.com.

F. Ethical Considerations

On occasion ethical considerations (such as interviewing one parent and not another and making custody recommendations), require examination of the ethics codes of the professional. The following Ethics Codes are available for onsite inspection: The American Counseling Association at http://www.counseling.org/ethics.htm; The American Psychiatric Association-Membership Ethics at http://www.psych.org/apa_members/ethics.html; The American Psychological Association ethics information at http://www.apa.org/ethics/ethics.html; and the National Association of Social Workers' code of ethics at http://www.naswdc.org/code.htm.

Buying Computer Equipment (or Why I Hate Retail)

I hate the fact that consumers and lawyers are taken advantage of by retailers (not all) when it comes to buying law office computer equipment. Most lawyers head into an alleged computer store with little or no idea of what they want or need. Do I buy the Pentium II 450 mhz with 128 megs of memory of the Celeron at half the cost with 32 megs of memory or go against the grain and get that cute Apple Imac. Or the lawyer who is to busy and the "consulant" makes all the decisions on computer purchases.And don't get me started on service after the sale better known as "SAS". Well there is hope first if you use a consultant or go the store get a written guote. Make sure the quote gives detailed product information including if possible manufacturer's SKW numbers. Don't get a quote that says Computer $2500.00. Then do your homework (you should do this first but I know better - you're impulsive). Then the components -- and boy has that gotten easier. I use two sites to primarily look for prices. The first is http://www.shopper.com which searches across a number of wholesaler sites and gives you a listing of the lowest prices available. This site will even sort by lowest prices first. A great site saving you money and time. The second site is http://www.pricewatch.com which gives you a different format for searching but also gives you the ability to check prices against other sites. One of the largest wholesale computer web sites that reportedly even sells below cost is http://www.buy.com which has some of the best prices on the net. Once you get the quotes you are armed with the information to make an "informed" computer purchase.

Here are some sites that will help you in making online purchases. Note that many companies are supporting sites and will preference their products.

Buy.com www.buy.com
Hardware and software reseller has partnership with Ingram Micro

Compaq www.compaq.com
Partnering with Beyond.com to sell software online

Dell www.gigabuys.com
Reselling 30,000 hardware and software products

Gateway www.spotshop.com
Partnering with NECX to sell Gateway and third-party gear

Microsoft shop.microsoft.com
Microsoft's new online store

Onsale www.onsale.com
Wholesale PC reseller has partnership with Tech Data

Miscellaneous Sites

The following are sites that the author has found invaluable for presentations to clients and are fun to explore:

For planning for your child's education at a Texas institution, see the Texas Tomorrow Fund

The Attorney's Toolbox at http://www.mother.com/~randy/tools.html is an excellent internet research site.

For a very deep and comprehensive site for families and family attorneys, see the Family Forever -- Surfing the 'Net, then explore the rest of the site

A comprehensive medical site which includes specialty-based sub-areas, practice guidelines, drug searches, patient resources and a portal to Medline is located at http://www.medscape.com.

Richard Orsinger, who provided through his Web Page a number of sites which are utilized in this paper, can be found at http://www.Txdirect.net/users/rrichard.

If you are looking to get somewhere, try Map Quest at http://www.mapquest.com/.

Of course various Web browsers are available online. You can download Netscape at http://home.netscape.com or you can purchase it in most computer stores. Microsoft Internet Explorer is free and available at http://www.msn.com/ or http://www.microsoft.com.

Additional sites of interest to family lawyers are the Harris County Appraisal District at http://www.hcad.org, a great help in preparing an inventory, and http://www.edmunds.com, http://www.carprices.com, and Kelly Blue Book at http://www.kbb.com for determining the value of an automobile.

Judge Montgomery of the 309th District Court of Harris County has found a wonderful site called http://www.hg.org which is a very large data base of national and international legal sites. The 1999 revision of the Local Rules for Harris County Family Courts can be found at http://www.yob.com/localrules.html and the Texas Family Code (yes it's current) is located at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/statutes/fatoc.html. Thanks John.

Harry Tindall recently pointed me to a great site for helping determine when you can retire. See http://www.americanexpress.com/401k/workshop/index.shtml for economic planning tools.


If there is really something that makes internet travel and computer usage fun it's shareware. Although there are many definitions, it is basically a concept of trying a program and if you like it - you buy it. So to get you oriented I'll periodically point you to my favorite shareware site and other sites of interest.

Additionally, through the hard work of Harry Tindall, the Texas Association of Family Law Specialist has opened a wonderful family law site at http://www.tafls.org with an added bonus of Sampson's and Tindall's 1997 legislative summary, which can be found at http://www.tafls.org/update.html. Also please note that as of July 1, 1997 the State Bar of Texas will terminate its BARLINK relationship with Compuserve and bring up an internet site. For more information http://www.texasbarcle.com. The Computer Section site is located at http://www.sbot.org. The Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas has opened a web site at http://www.txdirect.net/users/rrichard/FamilyLawSection/FamilyLawSection.htm.


As you can see by this information and the attached Internet Site List for Family Lawyers, the Internet is rich with resources available and hopefully this accumulation of resources will be a valuable tool in your day to day practice of family law.



1980 Post Oak Boulevard
Suite 1780
Houston, Texas 77056
(713) 961-7800
(713) 961-3453 (Facsimile)
E-Mail: reginald.hirsch@yob.com
Website: www.yob.com
Webmeister: www.tafls.org