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Marriage is a civil contract and the state has an interest in preserving marriages. Therefore, only a court can alter a marital relationship-and that includes issuing a divorce decree. The laws of your state will determine the procedures for getting a divorce, including whether you need grounds for divorce, what grounds are permitted in your state, and whether there are other ways to dissolve the marriage.

Planning for Divorce
If you have examined your relationship with your spouse and decided that divorce is the only option, you should begin preparing immediately. You should examine your financial situation-Do you and your spouse share joint accounts? Do you know your monthly expenses? Do you have a credit history? Financial worksheets and tips for planning a divorce will be useful at this stage. You should also examine the emotional aspects-How will you tell your spouse? How will you tell your children? Consider these key matters before moving forward with your plans.

Divorcing In or Out of Court
A court must make your divorce official, but you and your spouse can negotiate and agree on the specifics of your divorce arrangements between yourselves. If you and your spouse cannot work things out but you do not want to go to court, you may decide that a formal arbitration process will serve you in resolving any disputes. If you disagree on many issues or find it difficult to negotiate with your spouse, you may need to go to court. You can get a preview of this process, and tips to get through it, by taking an escorted walk through a divorce proceeding.

Settlement Agreements
The core of every divorce is the settlement agreement, which spells out the terms of the divorce and the future relationship of the former spouses. You can negotiate this agreement with your spouse or you can hire a lawyer to advise you and manage the discussions. Either way you will need strategies to make sure your settlement agreement encompasses every eventuality and reflects the best deal for you in your negotiations.

Spousal Support (Alimony or Maintenance)
Spousal support, also known as maintenance or alimony, is part of almost every divorce. Generally, the spouse who is the breadwinner is required to make payments to the other spouse. However, you can negotiate the terms of your support obligations (or your spouse’s obligations to you). Because the level of support you negotiate to pay or receive may affect you for years after the divorce proceedings, you should review your financial situation, as well as that of your spouse if possible, very carefully. Worksheets may help you figure out an appropriate level of support.

Child Support and Custody
Before you begin divorce proceedings, you should understand the nuts and bolts of who is likely to be awarded custody after divorce and why. You can probably predict who will be required to pay child support and, using worksheets, you can estimate support amounts.

Using an Attorney to Divorce
Because divorce often requires the aid of an attorney sooner or later in the procedure, you may find it helpful to review tips designed to help you find and hire a lawyer.