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Reconciliation: When Divorce Proceedings Lead Couples Back to Marriage

In my last column, I talked about the Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin official divorce announcement, and how her awareness-raising of the “conscious uncoupling” philosophy led people to be aware of the principals that anchor the thinking behind collaborative law.

One interesting quote I found, in going back over media coverage around the divorce, came from a Time article on the last day of 2014, which explored quotes in her interview with Harper’s Bazaar. The article characterized her – I would say unfairly – as “backtracking” on the idea of conscious coupling just because she wondered aloud about the prospect of staying married. Here are the quotes in question from the article:

 “It’s painful, it’s difficult, it might be easier to say, ‘I never want to see you again,’ but what good does that do anyone?” said Paltrow, 42. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes, and we’ve had good days and bad days, but I have to say, I’m proud of us for working through so much stuff together—and not blaming and shaming.”

“Of course, there are times when I think it would have been better if we had stayed married, which is always what your children want. But we have been able to solidify this friendship so that we’re really close.”

What I’m hearing here is a mother who realizes her children would rather have their mother and father together than apart, and a wife realizing that she still loves her husband and is wondering about whether they could make the marriage work while in the process of negotiating a divorce.

This reminded me of a collaborative case I worked on, in which my client felt he needed to get a divorce from his wife despite not really wanting to do so. We were partway down the road to a collaborative divorce when he expressed his misgivings about going through with it. I asked him, “What would you need in order to stay married?” His ready answer told me that this was someone who was thinking about reconciliation – and yet, we were about to go into a meeting in which we’d be moving forward toward divorce.

I remember suggesting to him that, since they’d be together in the same room, that we open the meeting by him telling her they should change the agenda of the meeting, and discuss how they could stay married. They were already living separately at the time, and they were going to need counseling to get to where they needed to be, but he was willing to do the work necessary. As it turns out, she was willing to do the work as well – it was our last meeting, and they willingly stepped away from the divorce process to work on their marriage.

Of course, this isn’t the norm in collaborative law – most couples enter the process knowing that they want to get divorced, and they work toward that goal without attempting to reconcile. But collaborative law is a much more favorable setting for any possible reconciliation than litigation. The presence of a mental health professional in the collaborative process allows for better communication, and, should the couple decide to reconcile, someone who can refer a colleague who can help them. And, of course, a couple who hasn’t gone down the path of litigation is most likely in a better mental state to do the work needed to repair the marriage.