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What couples should know heading into divorce

The decision to divorce is not an easy one. If you have children, it is especially hard to decide if this is the right path. In the end, though, it may be for the better. However, you need to make sure you understand the process and avoid any mistakes that could hurt your and your children's future. Here are some important points to keep in mind:

1. Divorce does not have to go to court.

Although the media may portray an aggressive courtroom battle to win as much property and custody time as possible, not all divorces look like this. In fact, it is possible to reach a divorce settlement without ever taking the matters to trial.

If you and your divorcing spouse can discuss and negotiate issues of property division, child custody and other relevant topics, a judge may approve the agreement. You do not necessarily have to do this on your own. Mediation is a method of divorce in which a neutral third party focuses your discussions on what's important and helps you negotiate a fair settlement. More and more couples are turning to this method as a less costly and less stressful means of divorcing.

2. Both parents will almost always have rights to see their children.

In divorces with high levels of conflict, there may be a temptation to fight for full custody of the children out of spite. This is not only difficult to do but it's also damaging to the children. Court makes a custody decision based on the best interest of the child and it has been shown that children greatly benefit from having both parents in their life. The exception to this is cases involving domestic violence or substance abuse.

It is completely understandable that you are distressed over seeing your children less often than you do now. However, in divorce, it's important to focus on your child's needs. What will help them transition best? How can they keep in contact and spend time with both parents? You may have conflicts with your spouse but that is your child's other parent.

Regardless of whether you go to court or work out a custody decision on your own, having a co-parenting plan is essential. Discuss how you will both support the children and how their time will be spent after the divorce is over.

3. Going through divorce without an attorney is not advised.

Even if you want to avoid the courtroom, legal representation is extremely helpful in a divorce. Without it, you may miss essential deadlines, incorrectly file paperwork, unknowingly agree to something that is unfair or make other mistakes that will slow the process or hurt your future. When you are faced with such an emotional and stressful period of your life, you can benefit from an expert who has helped many couples move forward successfully after a divorce.

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