Conscious Uncoupling – Celebrity Fad or Divorce Trend?

HARTFORD – When a celebrity couple divorces, the split often claims headlines and occupies magazine covers.  Such was the case with the recent announcement that Hollywood A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow and her musician husband, Chris Martin were parting ways.   The couple recently proclaimed they were going through a “conscious uncoupling.”

Psychologist Wendy Habelow, PhD says the phrase “conscious uncoupling” is relatively new and has been popularized by Gwyneth Paltrow.  The idea for couples to separate with civility, grace and proper planning is not new, however.  Mediation and collaborative divorce have been around for some time. These types of divorces provide partners with a kinder and more person-centered approach to separating.”

Dr. Habelow is a member of an organization called Connecticut Collaborative Divorce Group (CCDG).   CCDG believes in collaboration as a means for facilitating a more amicable end to a marriage and involves various professionals, including attorneys, psychologists and financial advisors.

In a joint statement, Paltrow and Martin described their conscious uncoupling by writing, “with hearts full of sadness, we have decided to separate. We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much, we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been.”

Conversely, in a traditional litigated divorce, each side has an attorney who “fights” for their client’s rights.  This method provokes a “winner-loser” scenario by virtue of its highly adversarial approach, often leaving important decision-making with a judge who oversees the case.  Adversarial divorce is expensive, stressful, and often traumatic, dividing partners in such a way that they may not be able to work together, something that is extremely troubling when children are involved. The parties need to be able to communicate about parenting issues.

From a legal perspective, the practice of conscious uncoupling or collaborative divorce can greatly reduce the cost and time it takes to separate.

“Certainly, the less emotional conflict there is, the better things can proceed because emotional conflict tends to distract everyone from the parenting and financial agreements which need to be made,” said Attorney and CCDG Member Kate Haakonsen. “The more time spent dealing with that kind of conflict, the longer it takes and the more it costs.  Having said that, each case has its particular set of financial issues, some of which require more understanding and negotiation than others.  The same is true for creating a parenting agreement which the parents think is best for all.”

“While some may scoff at Ms. Paltrow’s somewhat new age verbiage, she is espousing an approach to divorce that professionals have been advocating for years as having better outcomes for children as well as parents,” said Dr. Habelow.

In addition, this approach to ending a marriage makes room for sorting through emotions.

“The traditional legal system does not place a lot of emphasis on the emotional aspects of divorce except where it appears  the children may be harmed,” said Attorney Haakonsen.  “The Collaborative Process by contrast is designed to help couples focus on a plan for the future more than an examination of the past.“

Whether you call it conscious uncoupling, mediation or collaborative divorce, this type of non-adversarial approach provides a way for partners to end their relationship with dignity and integrity despite the pain that is felt with an uncoupling.

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