The former couple officially filed divorce papers on Thursday — coordinating the filing of near-identical documents at the same time. In a somewhat unusual legal move, they both cited in pro persona, a legal term which means that, at least on the record, they are representing themselves and don’t cite a lawyer representing them.
That’s a way of keeping their case extra-private as well as signifying it’s amicable, says Peter M. Walzer, an L.A. certified family law specialist who’s not involved with their divorce.
“In most cases, because celebrities don’t want the public to see [the agreement], they agree privately and they file in pro per — which means they are representing themselves,” Walzer said. “All they’ll submit is a judgment of dissolution of marriage.” The couple can keep their more detailed divorce agreement — and any disputes — private.
Steven Mindel, another family law specialist not involved in the case, adds that just because the divorcing couple didn’t cite a lawyer in their filing doesn’t mean they’re actually going through the procedure on their own.
“There is no way that [they] don’t have big legal teams behind them,” Mindel says. “They filed this way most likely because they want to portray to the public they are doing this amicably: ‘We are getting divorced but we are doing this the right way.’ “
Jonathan Wolfe, the New Jersey-based attorney who helped represent Katie Holmes in her divorce from Tom Cruise, agrees, saying that the filing shows Affleck and Garner’s willingness to work together.
“From their initial joint statement through their recent court filing, it appears they are determined to settle amicably,” Wolfe tells PEOPLE. “While their lawyers are no doubt working hard to finalize a settlement, I would not expect to see any disputes in court.”
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Affleck and Garner have been in mediation and are working with leading L.A. divorce attorney Laura Wasser, a source told PEOPLE. Wasser has handled the divorce cases of many A-listers, including Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and Kim Kardashian.
Walzer says using a mediator is a “smart way to resolve divorces. The mediator is not a lawyer for either side, the mediator works for both sides to reach an agreement and is cost saving — and also keeps the acrimony down.”
Mindel says that it’s “not surprising” it took them almost two years to file because there are likely legal and financial teams behind the scenes getting all their assets in order.
“There is a huge document that has to be put together that specifies all their assets and business deals,” Mindel says. “It’s a long process. They most likely have a marital settlement agreement that wouldn’t be made public or a co-parenting agreement that again would not be public.“
Garner and Affleck also had a notable omission in their filing — they didn’t specify a separation date. Walzer says leaving that blank is a “big deal” because it’s a “very important date in California law. That’s the cutoff of community property.” According to the law, the income and assets from their marriage should be divided equally up to the date they separated.
“They have a lot of interests, residuals, royalties for movies,” Walzer says. “These people are making lots of money. It would be important to know when that stops being joint property. I seldom see people leave that blank. That signals they’ve got a deal and they’re not going to put it on the papers.”