In 2014, actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced that she and her husband of ten years were in the process of “conscious uncoupling” of their marriage. Few at the time understood what was meant by the phrase, causing some to search for an answer. An article in the Wall Street Journal determined a New Zealand therapist first used the phrase in 2006 in a research paper. Three years later, Katherine Woodward Thomas, a US marriage therapist, used the phrase when discussing the value of a cooperative separation.
The Meaning of Conscious Uncoupling
There is no precise definition of the term, but (according to Thomas) it implies the goal of ending the relationship in a positive, cooperative and respectful manner. Rather than concentrating on the negative, when consciously uncoupling, the parties strive to complete the relationship with mutual respect and accentuate the positive aspects of the past.
The Legal Effect of Conscious Uncoupling in Divorce
In short, if parties choose to consciously uncouple, it has no legal effect on the marriage. It will not terminate the marriage, divide property, allocate liabilities, or provide for the care and custody of minor children. To terminate the marriage, parties must still undergo a divorce proceeding. Parties can also, in most states, enter into a legal separation, where a court will divide property, award custody of minor children, order child support and determine who is responsible for marital debts.
The Practical Effect of Conscious Uncoupling in Divorce
It is in this area where the parties will benefit the most from the concept of conscious uncoupling. It is universally accepted that divorce can be an extremely traumatic event in the lives of the couples, and this can be especially true of parties with minor children. In addition, prolonged and acrimonious divorce proceedings can add an enormous cost to the proceedings and prevent the parties from turning a corner in their lives.
Techniques or exercises to strive for cooperation between the parties will lessen costs, and mitigate the emotional impact of the proceedings. Courts are extremely receptive to divorce agreements, mediation, arbitration and informal settlement of disputes. The area of alternative dispute resolution is one of the growing areas of law in the past 20 years or so.
In some ways, the concept of conscious uncoupling isn’t new. For many years, the phrases “amicable divorce” and “uncontested divorce” have been present in most states. But if new method of looking at a similar goal is successful, the parties benefit, the court system benefits, and society as a whole benefits.