Written by Michael Heath
Pro se is Latin for “by itself.” Used in law, it means to represent oneself. 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. This is not advisable, as the lone side may be at a distinct disadvantage. Pro se divorce is the forgoing of legal counsel or mediation to allow the couple to hammer 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; they just need to be willing to live with it.
The reason pro se divorce is not the “go-to” method for most couples is that divorce is inherently complex. Usually, there are issues concerning division of assets, alimony, and child custody. There may be a concern about a business, pension or even 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 consider 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? Those 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.
People can usually obtain filing requirements online or through the county court system. New Jersey has some particularly good services to assist those seeking a divorce. Divorce in New Jersey: A Self-Help Guide is an excellent resource – download the PDF.
Another place for New Jersey residents to go for helpful information is www.NJcourts.gov . There is even information about free legal services for low-income residents.
Many specialized companies assist 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 review the documents before submitting for a judge’s approval.
Only couples that can work with one another, both rationally and fairly, should even consider pro se divorce. And the fewer, 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 minimizing legal fees. Keeping lawyers out of the mix can ease tensions between the spouses. The time element is advantageous in that these kinds of divorces can be settled more quickly. Pro se divorcing couples maintain control of the proceedings while preserving a high level of privacy; legal matters stay out of the public courthouse until the very end.