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By M. J. Goodwin
A few weeks ago, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin announced their divorce and characterized it as “conscious uncoupling.” They even participated in a ceremony. This phrase was batted around the internet and fun was poked. But as I have thought about it, I think that “conscious uncoupling” may be worth giving some serious consideration for those in unhappy relationships. I think it may be far preferable to the alterative, which is being unceremoniously dumped or unceremoniously dumping your partner.
Gwyneth and Chris released the following statement: “It is with hearts full of sadness that 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. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner. Love, Gwyneth & Chris.”
What does this statement tell you? It tells you that they have thought about their relationship and tried to make it work. It tells you that they have made every effort to minimize hostility and hard feelings. But most importantly, it tells you that they are putting their children’s needs first.
What I see in my family court practice, over the past 22 years, is that litigants come to Family Court with hurt feelings. Hurt feelings and emotional damage renders the litigant more likely to make decisions based on emotion, pain, rage and even the desire for revenge. None of those mental states are ideal for decision making. They are certainly not ideal for coparenting.
But what if those same people engaged in “conscious uncoupling”? What if they went to a counselor and worked on the problems, evaluated all the options, and finally mutually decided that it was best to live and parent as individuals rather than as a couple? What if they agreed on how to divide their assets and on a schedule for the children? Would they have an easier time in Family Court? Most definitely. Is this realistic? Probably not.
I see a lot of broken people. Many times their relationships have been marred by infidelity, drug use, alcohol abuse and even physical violence. These folks cannot reasonably be expected to participate in “conscious uncoupling.” “Conscious uncoupling” seems to require a degree of trust that may be impossible for many couples. It also may require a degree of emotional maturity on the part of both parties that is more rare than what is typically seen in family court litigation.
What can a lawyer do to help? My suggestion, if “conscious uncoupling” is even a remote possibility, would be for both parties to have competent legal counsel and to engage in settlement negotiations. I recently had a couple do this. They had been in counseling for some time and simply could not continue as a couple. In a way, they also engaged in “conscious uncoupling.” It certainly saved them money on their legal fees.
Whether or not “conscious uncoupling” is right for you, if you are in the midst of a break-up, see a competent family law attorney. A lawyer who is well versed in family law can make you aware of your options and help you through the Family Court process.
M. J. Goodwin has practiced family law in Anderson, South Carolina, since 1991.