“Conscious Uncoupling” and Other Not-So-Legal Terms in Divorce

credit: goop.com

photo credit: goop.com

If you follow celebrity news, you no doubt have heard about the “conscious uncoupling” between Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. If you are going through an “uncoupling” process yourself, you may be wondering what exactly it means to make it “conscious.” Since you are reading this blog, you may also be wondering how the concept of conscious uncoupling fits into the divorce mediation process.

While Chris and Gwyneth may have popularized the term, according to the NY Times it was coined by psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas—or more specifically, Ms. Thomas adopted the term after hearing it from a friend who was describing his own divorce. As Ms. Thomas clarifies, the term is essentially just “a kinder term for divorce.”

The term “conscious” is often used these days in connection with spirituality or personal growth. While the word has many definitions, it’s essence, when used in this context, has to do with awareness, the idea of being awake in the world, the idea of living with intention rather than reactively and thoughtlessly. Becoming conscious means taking creative action to build the life you want, while simultaneously rejecting strong attachments to specific outcomes.

It’s a beautiful term, and the concept of divorcing with this kind of consciousness certainly has the potential to help many couples who are separating but wish to remain on good terms, either for their own sakes or for the sakes of their children. Taking a step back from this admirable goal though, we have to ask, could there be something just a little bit misleading about the term “conscious uncoupling”? Gwyneth and Chris may not want to use the term “divorce,” but make no mistake about it, they are getting a divorce. And, if they are just now embarking on the divorce process, keeping conscious while they go through it may be more of a struggle than they anticipate.

“Conscious uncoupling” is really just a new age-y term for what others have recently called an “amicable divorce” or a “divorce with dignity.” Aiming for an amicable divorce that allows both members of the former couple to retain their personal dignity is the goal of an increasing number of couples, and it is also increasingly achievable as divorce becomes more socially acceptable. Still, it’s important to realize is that terms like “conscious,” “amicable,” and “dignity” are not legal terms. Regardless of how friendly or spiritual your divorce may be, you still need to go through all of the appropriate legal steps, or you will not technically be divorced—and unfortunately, many couples who start off with the best intentions of staying amicable don’t end there when they realize what is really at stake.

“Uncontested divorce” . . . “irreconcilable differences” . . . “equitable distribution” . . . “spousal support”—these are the legal terms that anyone attempting an amicable or conscious divorce needs to understand. If children are involved, other essential terms are “child custody,” and all its permutations—“joint,” “sole,” “legal,” and “physical” or “residential” custody—as well as related terms like “parenting plan,” “visitation,” and “child support.”

Legal paperwork must be completed with precision and careful attention to the exact meaning of legal terms. Sometimes what happens in the course of attending to all of these legal requirements, particularly if the parties find themselves in a courtroom in front of a judge, is that one or both parties becomes fearful about what they may be losing in terms of financial security or time with their children. This is when the good intentions, the intentions to stay amicable, to stay conscious, fly out the window.

What’s one of the best ways to stay conscious and amicable in divorce? Choosing mediation. In private divorce mediation, intentional and creative action is inherent in the process. Divorcing couples are most successful in mediation when they maintain an amicable and collaborative spirit while keeping an open mind regarding specific outcomes.

Ultimately a divorce is a divorce, and often, there is no way around experiencing some degree of loss and pain. In most cases, however, going to mediation, instead of stepping inside the contentious arena of a courtroom, can preserve the non-adversarial stance that many couples truly crave, and is the best possible route to an amicable, dignified, and conscious divorce.

If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are committed to the concept of “conscious uncoupling,” contact a mediator today.