As a lover of all things Coldplay, I was sad to hear that lead singer Chris Martin and his wife of more than 10 years, Gwyneth Paltrow, were divorcing. Gwyneth Paltrow announced the separation on her website Goop.com and used the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe their approach to divorce. Although the term had been originally coined by marriage and family therapist, Katherine Woodward Thomas, as with anything else endorsed by celebrities, the phrase went viral after her post. It was of particular interest to me personally given my chosen profession as a divorce lawyer.
As professionals, especially ones whose practice is client-centric, we are always striving for better ways to do our jobs. In my case, that means getting clients their desired result in the most effective and streamlined way possible. After practicing for several years, experience has shown me time and time again, that people going through divorce are most satisfied with the process when they feel they have control over it (i.e., are “conscious[ly] uncoupling”) and can proceed with a form of alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation) rather than traditional, costly, protracted litigation.
Even as American culture has become more progressive and accepting, divorce is still considered taboo and is almost always surrounded by extreme negativity and hostility. Even if the couple themselves wants to proceed amicably, they are unfortunately often allowing others in their life (parents, siblings, friends, new boyfriend or girlfriend) to control the dialogue and encourage them to dig in their heels.
Once people “dig in”, it is often impossible to “dig out”. Protracted litigation only intensifies negativity and hostility. The idea that divorce has to be a negative experience then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which divorcing parties behavior, is influenced by their expectation that divorce must be awful. I believe if you change the conversation surrounding divorce and allow yourself to “consciously uncouple” you will have much more satisfying experience surrounding your divorce.
I recently completed a 40-hour divorce mediation training program. This program has only solidified my beliefs that in many cases, a mediated divorce, is a better divorce. That is not to say that litigation is never necessary. There are some circumstances that cannot be mediated and some people that simply cannot effectively participate in mediation. That said though, divorce is multi-dimensional: it is legal, it is financial, and it is emotional. The great thing about mediation is that it can effectively address each of those dimensions.
Whether you litigate or mediate, you achieve the same end result: a legal divorce. A mediated divorce however is often faster, less adversarial and provides more flexible and creative resolutions, narrowly tailored to your specific family dynamic. It also allows for a more confidential process than airing out your dirty laundry in a series of public court filings and appearances.
I will never say “always” or “never” because I’ve come to learn that nothing is absolute. A mediated divorce however, can certainly be more cost effective. Spending less to uncouple leaves more to be divided between the parties and therefore places both parties in a better position to maintain financial independence and stability post-divorce.
Although emotions can run high during mediation, there is a much more focused approach on compromise and collaboration rather than “winning” as is seen in litigation. When people feel their spouse is negotiating in good faith and trying to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem (i.e., zealously litigating over the smallest of disputes), they walk away feeling better about uncoupling, which leads to healthier relationships with themselves, their ex-spouse, and future romantic partners.
The takeaway from all of this is that choosing to uncouple, does not always have to be adversarial, financially draining and emotionally damaging. Take control of your divorce and find avenues in which to minimize the long-term effects. Before deciding to wage war against your spouse, consult with an experienced and trained family law mediator to see how mediation can work for you.
Lauren K. Beaver is a contributor to the New Jersey Family Law Blog and an attorney in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Lauren practices out of the firm’s Princeton, New Jersey office representing clients on issues relating to divorce, support, equitable distribution, custody, and parenting time. Lauren also offers mediation services to those looking to procure a more amicable divorce. Lauren can be reached at (609) 844-3027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.