Can There Really be Such a Thing as “Conscious Uncoupling”

May 16, 2014
Julie B. Miller

I read in a Fox News article a few weeks ago that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Chris Martin, attended a party together, even though they have publicly announced their separation, which they have referred to as “conscious uncoupling”.  When the pair announced that they were “consciously uncoupling”, there seemed to be a lot of public questions (and skepticism) about what this is, and, if it exists, whether it can be accomplished successfully.  I, too, raised an eyebrow, wondering why it is headline news and why any of us care what happens between them in the privacy of their own relationship. In part, the story generated so much interest because of the use of the term uncoupling in place of divorce.

The term and idea of the “uncoupling” of married people is one that I have heard used in collaborative divorce cases.  In my experience, many people are drawn to collaborative law because they desire to end their marriage and resolve their economic issues in a process and a timeframe that they control together. Generally, they value what’s left of their relationship with their spouse, namely the joint parenting of children and often, that reason is their primary factor in selecting collaboratively-trained counsel to assist with the divorce. Collaboratively-trained professionals, particularly coaches and therapists, refer to the term “uncoupling”, as a way for both spouses to envision themselves moving forward with their lives, independent of each other.  Because the collaborative process is based on the parties’ development of their individual needs, concerns and interests, it necessarily requires them to think about their future and how their financial settlement and parenting plans will be structured to enable them to achieve that.

Frankly, from where I sit as an observer of divorcing clients on a daily basis, the fact that the Paltrow/Martin couple plans to "uncouple" does not change the reality that they are separating. There will be conflict and disputes between them because they are human beings. It does not become easier, prettier or some obscure thing that celebrities do just because they call it "uncoupling" instead of "divorce" or "separation." 

Interestingly, the Paltrow/Martin couple lives in England, where collaborative divorce has grown in popularity and is more common than in many areas of the United States. And it’s probably too soon to tell how their decision to "uncouple” will work for them.  My hope is that they are successful and that every time they are in public or attending an event with their children, it will not be front page news. If you are interested in learning more about collaborative divorce, please see some of my other blog posts and visit the website of the Collaborative Practitioners of Central Pennsylvania (CPCP) or the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP).

Julie Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Dickinson School of Law and practices in a variety of areas including Collaborative Law and traditional Family Law.