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Revisiting Conscious Uncoupling: Why It’s Still a Good Idea

Several weeks ago, Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced that their divorce was official. While I’m far from being a follower of Hollywood gossip, this celebrity divorce story is one that I have been keeping tabs on, and I’m not alone in that.

When they first announced plans to divorce last year, it wasn’t with the standard publicist’s announcement. Rather, Paltrow took to her Goop website – which covers a range of health and lifestyle topics that she likes to opine about – and introduced literally millions of people to the idea of “conscious uncoupling.”

As Elle.com’s Natalie Matthews wrote for CNN’s website, “I assumed it was just a cute little header she made up to soften the blow—something to fit within her fancy lifestyle brand's aesthetic, sort of like the way that she calls her ‘best of’ lists the ‘GP 13.’ But as I scrolled down, I quickly realized that ‘conscious uncoupling’ is not just a Gwyneth-ism or a Goop-ism. Conscious Uncoupling is very much a thing, one that's been around for years, though under the radar.”

Though there’s a lot of discussion about this readily available online – the article on the Goop site is a great place to delve into it – collaborative law advocates like myself will tell you that it has much in common with why we support collaborative law.

Though divorcing couples certainly have their differences, collaborative law allows them to settle those differences through talking, listening, and working toward a solution that aims to be best for everyone involved. For divorcing couples who must maintain a relationship as co-parents, there’s even more incentive to keep the divorce as civil as possible, in order to keep the post-divorce co-parenting relationship civil.

Katherine Thomas Woodward, a “transformational teacher” who champions conscious uncoupling, notes that it’s “a proven process for lovingly completing a relationship that will leave you feeling whole and healed and at peace." While not everyone who chooses collaborative law might think of the process as “lovingly completing a relationship,” it’s certainly a process that sets its participants up better for healing and peace than litigation does.

When a divorcing couple enters litigation, the process forces them into adversarial positions, there’s less incentive to be open and honest in order to expedite the process, and the end result is perceived as either a win or a loss.

While litigation is necessary in some divorce cases, it’s far more challenging for divorced couples who are still raising children together to come back to a place of cooperation and negotiation after going through the courtroom – whereas, if a couple opts for collaborative law, they’re already working on negotiating and talking through issues before the divorce is final. And while this might not be a conscious uncoupling in the way Paltrow means it, there’s a consciousness in collaborative law that makes it a better option for couples who will interact post-divorce.

In my next column, I’ll explore what I thought was a particularly interesting quote in the Paltrow divorce coverage, and how that might lead to the possibility that collaborative divorce proceedings sometimes can and do lead to couples opting to not divorce.