What is Conscious Uncoupling?

15 October 2019

Conscious uncoupling is the concept that ending a marriage or relationship is a positive step, which will benefit the people involved. In this article, we explain this concept in more detail, and look at how it fits into divorce law in England and Wales.

Conscious Uncoupling Explained

When we think about a divorce or relationship break-up, it's often thought of as a painful and difficult process with arguments, tears and ill feeling between those involved. In cases where the couple have children together, an acrimonious break-up can make co-parenting very difficult. Even after getting divorced, those with children together will have to remain in each other's lives to a certain extent. So a nasty break up is going to make this difficult for all involved and is likely to have a negative effect on the children.

In 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow announced that she was separating from Chris Martin and described their breakup as a 'conscious uncoupling' but what does this mean?

The term refers to an act of ending a marriage or relationship in a way that is viewed as a very positive step for both people. They believe their lives will be better by separating from each other. They also believe that they can continue to remain friends, successfully co-parent (if they have children), and possibly even still love each other. It's based on the theory that not every relationship lasts forever or is even meant to last forever. Essentially, it simply means an amicable break-up.

Is it Really Possible to Divorce Amicably?

For some time now there has been a call for a change in the law on divorce to remove the need to place blame on one person.

Currently the only ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage and the person seeking the divorce (the Petitioner) must rely on one of 5 'facts' to support this:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years' separation (with consent)
  • 5 years' separation

Unless the couple is willing to wait 2 years after separation to start the divorce proceedings, the only two facts available are adultery or unreasonable behaviour. These both, in effect, place blame on the other person (the Respondent). However for many couples, they have simply grown apart over time and no one is really to blame, so they don't want to rely on either of those two facts. Equally, they also may not want to wait 2 years to start the process as they simply want to be able to move on.

No Fault Divorce

In April 2019 the Government announced that they will reform divorce law to remove the concept of blame. With around 50% of marriages ending in divorce and many of these divorces involving children, it has been recognised that couples need to be able to separate as amicably as possible.

The announcement came following growing calls to introduce no fault divorce from campaigners and senior figures in Family Law, including Sir James Munby and Baroness Hale. The reforms fall under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament.

No fault divorce aligns with the concept of conscious uncoupling. This concept, in short, accepts that sometimes relationships simply don't work out, and there is not necessarily anything wrong with that. In these situations, many believe that the option to consciously uncouple could be the best outcome for those involved.

More announcements on divorce law reforms in the UK are expected to be released over the coming months.

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