In the latest example of a high-profile, celebrity divorce triggering an onslaught of media interest, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay front man Chris Martin recently announced that after 10 years of marriage they are separating. Uniquely, the announcement itself has attracted as much attention as the news it was conveying. For when Ms Paltrow announced on her website that they were “consciously uncoupling” many wondered what this curious turn of phrase might mean.
Social media exploded with mockery, whilst the majority of journalists concluded that the statement only served to encourage the unrealistic perception of an aspirational celebrity lifestyle, out of reach to the general public. From the vast array of literature now surrounding the concept of “conscious uncoupling” its meaning has become a little clearer.
The main feature underlying this novel use of terminology may be aspirational but is readily applicable. It encourages the management of a relationship breakdown through a process devoid of the negative characteristics commonly associated with a more ‘aggressive’ approach to divorce. The message is therefore positive. In effect it describes the pursuit of a separation in which the parties are proactive not reactionary, amicable not vengeful, co-operative not destructive.
From a legal standpoint this is not a new concept. The connotations of the phrase are in fact reminiscent of an existing but relatively new legal process in England and Wales. Collaborative Law, with the principle of a non combative approach at its core, presents an increasingly popular option for divorcing couples seeking to secure solutions by agreement rather than through court proceedings.
In the collaborative process each person still appoints their own lawyer, but parties and their lawyers meet together to work things out face to face. All collaborative lawyers must be specially trained to carry out the collaborative process. The lawyers sign an agreement which disqualifies them from representing their client in court should the collaborative process break down, thus ensuring full commitment to resolving matters in the collaborative forum.
Sometimes only a couple of meetings are needed, whilst on other occasions four or five may be necessary. The agenda followed at these meetings is set by the couple, ensuring they take the lead in establishing the issues relevant to their particular circumstances. The ability to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties without the underlying threat of contested litigation is what makes this option increasingly appealing.
It remains to be seen whether Collaborative Law will receive the celebrity endorsement of those currently undergoing a “conscious uncoupling”. With or without the pressure of world media scrutiny, the choice of how best to manage the legal process of a relationship breakdown can be daunting. The right option will entirely depend on the divorcing couple and their personal circumstances. Collaborative law is one such option and is available to all – irrespective of celebrity status.
If you would like to explore the option of Collaborative Law please contact the family department at Hanne & Co for further information.