When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced in 2014 that they were “consciously uncoupling” they were met with mockery and derision. Six years on, Gwyneth Paltrow has written a letter published in last month’s Vogue to explain the reasoning behind the term, and it’s not so foolish as it first sounds.  Gwyneth herself describes the term a “a bit full of itself, painfully progressive and hard to swallow” but the sentiment behind the phrase is surely something that the vast majority of separated parents could get behind – the aim is to ensure that first and foremost, children are not hurt by their parents’ separation.

Celebrity divorces have often been reported in the press as aggressive and painful affairs, with each party out to take the other “to the cleaners”. The lives of the children living at the centre of that conflict are often forgotten. For many people, their experience and understanding of divorce comes from the media’s reporting of celebrity divorces. Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow sought to rewrite this narrative and in fact their experience fits into a positive trend of reducing conflict on divorce. There is a growing amount of research to show that reduced conflict between parents is beneficial for children and over the years, we have seen an increased uptake on alternative methods of dispute resolution – for example mediation – particularly between separated couples with children. 

The court system is not necessarily best placed to deal with children disputes. In fact, the court applies the “no order” principle in this area of law, which requires a judge to specifically consider whether making an order is in the best interests of the child, as opposed to having no order at all and simply a record of the child arrangements. Further, courts are increasingly overstretched and arranging court time to hear such disputes is not top of the priority list unless there are safeguarding issues. Courts are becoming less willing to intervene in these types of disputes – a prime example is this recent judgment of HHJ Wildblood QC at a family court in Bristol. In his judgment, he states:

“The message in this judgment to parties and lawyers is this, as far as I am concerned. Do not bring your private law litigation to the Family court unless it is genuinely necessary for you to do so. You should settle your differences (or those of your clients) away from court, except where that is not possible. If you do bring unnecessary cases to this court, you will be criticised, and sanctions may be imposed on you. There are many other ways to settle disagreements, such as mediation.”

HHJ Wildblood QC is not alone – many other members of the judiciary adopt a similar approach and do not take too kindly to parents who have issued court proceedings without having first considered an alternative method of resolving their dispute.

Of course, “conscious uncoupling” is far from the reality for many separated parents. Judicial intervention is required for various reasons in countless situations. In such circumstances, a parent would not be criticised for bringing their dispute before the court.

In her letter to Vogue, Gwyneth Paltrow takes the view that the idea of conscious uncoupling has “permeated the break-up culture”. While I cannot foresee the term “conscious uncoupling” catching on, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow have certainly given an example to follow for couples seeking an amicable separation.

If you and your ex are able to discuss matters amicably, you should still seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. A good family lawyer should be able to assist you in minimising conflict later down the line and can facilitate out of court dispute resolution methods such as arbitration and mediation. Here at Silk, all of our lawyers are family law specialists and experts in our field, so we are well-equipped to advise you whatever your family’s circumstances.

This blog post was written by Silk Family Law solicitor, Eleanor Lowes. As a member of the national professional membership organisation for family lawyers, Resolution, Eleanor is committed to promoting a constructive and non-confrontational approach to family issues. In particular the Resolution code of practice prioritises acting in the best interests of children.

For advice on any aspect of family law, including separation and divorce advice and advice on children matters, contact Eleanor on Eleanor.lowes@silkfamilylaw.co.uk or call 01914 957190.

Image credits: Kevin Gent and Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash.