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Chad Lowe, Hilary Swank Divorcing

UPDATED 05/27/2006 at 07:05 AM EDT Originally published 05/26/2006 at 02:20 PM EDT

Chad Lowe, Hilary Swank Divorcing
Hahn-Khayat-Nebinger/Abaca
Hilary Swank and husband Chad Lowe are divorcing, PEOPLE has learned exclusively.

"Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe have jointly decided to divorce," the couple's lawyer, Jeffrey A. Bernstein, tells PEOPLE. "They continue to be friends and have the utmost respect for one another."

The couple, who wed in 1997, announced in January that they were separating. "Hilary and Chad have decided to separate, but they are hopeful they'll be able to get through this tough time," Swank's rep, Troy Nankin, said in a statement at the time.

Indeed, Swank, 31, and Lowe, 38, appeared to be making efforts to save their union. At the Golden Globes in January, when interviewer Isaac Mizrahi asked a solo Swank about the single life, she responded, "I'm not single. We're trying to work our marriage out."

Then in February, the couple were spotted looking cozy over lunch at Malibu's Tra di Noi restaurant.

Chad Lowe, Hilary Swank Divorcing| Divorced, Chad Lowe, Hilary Swank

Lowe and Swank in Malibu in February

Most Wanted / Flynet

"They seemed to be getting along very well," said an observer, noting that after the meal, Lowe walked Swank to her car. "He put his arm on her back when they were saying goodbye."

A close friend of the two-time Oscar winner told PEOPLE, "It's not the first time (they've eaten together), it's just the first time the cameras have been around. It's evidence that they're working on their marriage."

The couple met at a 1992 Hollywood Athletic Club bash. "I went to a party with Leo DiCaprio, and Chad was there," Swank recalled for PEOPLE in 2003. "We just started talking."

Added Lowe, "It was like the old cliché where you see somebody, lock eyes across the room, and time stands still. ... I said, 'I would love just to take you to lunch.' Then I worked my way up to dinner. We had lunch, we had dinner and then some."

Swank called it "love at first sight."

The marriage was the first for both. They have no children.

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