What We Can Learn From Gwyneth Paltrow’s Divorce

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Divorce and Conscious Uncoupling on Friday, March 28, 2014

As many of you may be aware, Gwyneth Paltrow – well known actress and entrepreneur – and her husband, Chris Martin – lead singer and songwriter for the band Coldplay – announced the end of their marriage through Gwyneth’s social media site.

Hollywood divorces usually seem so removed from the everyday reality of most people’s lives that we think we cannot glean some real lessons from them.  However, in this case at least, the manner in which they have focused their divorce on a very amicable concept known as “conscious uncoupling” bears a closer look.

Conscious uncoupling begins with the gentle observation that through most of human civilization, life expectancy rarely exceeded 35 years of age, so the concept of marriage as for life seemed reasonable – 15 to 20 years together raising a family.  Also, laws generally disfavored divorce, and economic circumstances that discriminated against women made divorce financially inconceivable as well.  But in the last century, life expectancy has jumped to over 80 years of age, and the idea of one relationship for life no longer seems reasonable for the majority of marriages.  The underlying premise of conscious uncoupling is that it is more reasonable to assume that humans at this stage of development will experience two or more significant relationships over a lifetime.

If we follow this premise – that relationships are by and large not forever – we must rewire how we think about coming together and coming apart.  First, partners in a relationship should take a more realistic view about marriage.  It will be difficult enough and require compromise as we face the challenges of growing and learning more about one another together over time; we do not need to add to this the fantasy-like (think Disney princesses and rom-com movies) premise of the fairy-tale soul mate forever union.  Rather, we should relieve ourselves of that pressure and think more practically.  Ironically, if we do, according to this theory, we will stand a better chance of making healthy relationship choices.

With regard to the coming apart, if we enter a relationship understanding it is not perfect and requires work, and that we do not know enough about how a partner will grow and change and whether that growth and change will erode compatibility, we alert ourselves to warning signs of problems earlier and should begin to deal with them through open discussion and counseling.  The theory proposes we should see our partners as both teachers and students, and we are learning from them as well as helping them on a life journey.  If on this journey we learn we no longer “work” together, we should not feel pain and recrimination but – going back to the initial operating premise of relationship for now, not necessarily for life – recognize the growing apart and begin to reevaluate the relationship to decide consciously whether to remain a couple.  If partners decide to uncouple, they will have a better understanding of why and can leave as friends rather than enemies, co-parents rather than constant litigators.

Conscious uncoupling offers much food for thought.  While some may see it as cynical or entering a marriage by betting on failure and making that a self-fulfilling prophecy, it does ground itself in reality in a way that takes the extreme emotions out of a breakup and allows for more rational thought in dividing assets and parenting after divorce.

Returning to Paltrow and Martin, they have an estimated fortune of $250 million.  One would assume they had a prenuptial agreement that will assist dividing up a large pot of marital assets; if they did not, the community property laws of California simplify much of that distribution (half and half).  But in other states, having no prenuptial agreement but taking a conscious uncoupling approach would allow for a more reasoned and less vindictive distribution – something we all could appreciate regardless of the size of our net worth.  With regard to children, Martin has dual citizenship so the problems of international child custody could come into play.  We have previously discussed how international child abduction offers many complications; if parents consciously uncouple, it seems more likely they will avoid any of the temptations to run off with the children or forum shop simply out of spite.

While relating to Paltrow and Martin may seem implausible, the lessons of conscious uncoupling make sense, even if you do not accept the initial premise that marriage really is not forever.  Choosing to part without enmity and conflict leaves everyone feeling much happier, especially the children.

If you have questions about conscious uncoupling and divorce, contact us – we can help.