Pro se divorce … you don’t say!

Pro Se is Latin for “by itself”. Used in law it means to represent one’s self. Pro se divorce (sometimes known as Do-It-Yourself divorce) generally refers to a divorce where there is no mediator, collaborative lawyers or litigators used in the dissolution of the marriage. In other words, the couple decides to reach a divorce settlement between themselves without using a third party. It can happen that one spouse appears in court pro se while the other one is represented by a lawyer, although this is not advisable as the lone side could end up with a distinct disadvantage. Pro se divorce, as it is discussed here, is both spouses forgoing legal counsel or mediation and hammering out an agreement “on their own”. It is a true uncontested divorce in that there is no trial. Both sides do not necessarily have to be happy with the settlement, it just needs to be something they are willing to live with.  

The reason pro se divorce is not the “go-to” for most couples is that divorce is inherently complex. There is the division of assets, alimony and child custody. There may be a business, pension or even a someone in the family with special needs. Dealing with complicated issues normally requires a lawyer or a mediator well-versed in divorce matters. Anyone seeking to end a marriage needs to look over the parts of the marital union that require negotiation. Can the issues be worked out without a third party? Is it even prudent to do so? Anyone seeking a divorce must understand that what they finally agree to, is what they will have to live with. Going forward without legal advice could end up costing more if the agreement turns out to be a bad deal.   

Only couples who can work with one another, both rationally and fairly, should even consider pro se divorce. And the fewer and less complicated the marital issues, the better. If a couple concludes that ending the marital union in this manner will work for them, then they will likely enjoy some real benefits. The obvious one is eliminating legal fees. And keeping lawyers out of the mix can ease tensions between the spouses. There is the time element in that these kinds of divorces can be settled more quickly. Couples using per se divorce maintain control of the proceedings while maintaining a high level of privacy since legal matters stay out of the public court house until the very end.  

People can usually obtain filing requirements on-line or through the county court system. Many companies specialize in assisting with the paperwork and charge only a few hundred dollars for the service. In any case, it is advisable that each spouse have an attorney look over the documents before submitting for a judge’s approval.