When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin recently announced their breakup as “consciousuncoupling”, they created quite a buzz. Comments both positive and negative streamed forth into the media. While many applauded the honesty and civility of the couple’s joint post, others were more critical, wondering, for example, whether conscious uncoupling is simply “breaking up for vegans.” As a family law attorney focused on helping families in transition, I was impressed by the couple’s joint statement. Acknowledging that they “are and always will be a family” and that they “are parents first and foremost” reveals an elevated level of consciousness. By making the public aware of a kinder, more generous approach to divorce, my hope is that this celebrity couple is raising the awareness of others considering divorce. While I understand that conscious uncoupling can refer to a variety of processes, the core principles include acceptance of mutual responsibility for the past and discussion of shared goals for the future. Divorce presents an opportunity for each partner to gain insight into his or her own patterns of behavior and how those patterns impacted the relationship. The Collaborative divorce process encourages conscious uncoupling. A neutral coach can help couples honor their feelings of grief and anger and develop a relationship plan for the future. Creating an honorable ending to one relationship improves the outlook for future relationships. If the family has children, they, too, will benefit from their parents’ healing and improved communication.
When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin made the recent announcement that they were consciously uncoupling, they clearly touched a public nerve.  There was immediate sniping from people who seem to prefer celebrity gossip leavened with spite and public histrionics.  Critics derided the process Paltrow and Martin are choosing and questioned their motives, and more than one “expert” opined that divorce could not occur without acrimony and anger.  I beg to differ. How cynical has the public discourse become when people would criticize a process of divorce that mindfully strives to create emotional safety for children?  What’s to be gained by scoffing at the notion of creating an effective co-parenting relationship?  Why is there an automatic assumption that hurt and sadness–even betrayal–must trigger fury and contempt, and that divorce is of necessity an adversarial process?

As a Neutral Child Specialist, I respect the calm and dignified way Paltrow and Martin have begun this sad journey, which, because of their professions, will need to be done in the public eye.  Understanding that language is powerful, I applaud the term conscious uncoupling, which, like getting unmarried, does not carry the emotional baggage of the word divorce.  I was especially impressed when Paltrow and Martin referenced the wish to co-parent and to continue to be a family for the sake of their children

A divorce process that puts the needs of children at the center is much healthier, not only for children but also for their parents.  It is true that effective co-parenting leads to a much higher quality of life for all family members.  These goals are embodied in the work of the Collaborative Team Practice community.   Collaborative Team Practice may not be chosen by those who don’t believe that parenting during and after a divorce requires mindfulness, a certain amount of self-sacrifice and hard work to keep children at the center and out of the middle.  However, it is an excellent process for parents who want to reduce the impact of a painful change on their children’s future.


Recent articles in the New York Times and the StarTribune (March 29, 2014) covered Gwyneth Paltrow’s announcement that she and her husband of 11 years, Chris Martin, were consciously uncoupling.  In other words, getting a divorce.  I was struck by how the term “conscious uncoupling”—coined by LA therapist and author, Katherine Woodward Thomas—neatly describes what happens in the out-of-court divorce process called Collaborative Law aka Collaborative Practice.  Collaborative Practice uses a collaborative approach to respectfully honor the marriage that is ending and intentionally plan for the best possible future for all family members.   What is accomplished by many couples in Collaborative Practice is what the term “conscious uncoupling” implies:  mutual respect, integrity, being mindful of the well-being of children, planning for the future by problem-solving in the present, being empowered to make informed decisions, and creating a climate for healing. A new era is upon us, one where ending a relationship does not have to be adversarial, judgmental, or harmful.  If it takes a celebrity to lead us into this new era, I am all for it.  Gwyneth, you go girl!