I have to admit that when this Google “divorce” alert came into my email inbox, I kinda smiled: “Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin ‘consciously re-coupling’ as they cool divorce plans.”
I don’t know why I smiled; I’m actually a bit horrified that I did. I know divorce isn’t always horrible, especially if you can consciously uncouple (whether you have kids or not); I don’t believe that marriages must last forever to be happy, healthy and successful; and I certainly don’t know Gwyneth or Chris and the circumstances of their partnership and desire to end it.
Yet, I smiled. A part of it has to do with the silly romantic notion (and cultural approval) of the idea that love can and must last forever. I believe it sometimes can and I also believe it sometimes does, but I also don’t think it’s terrible if it doesn’t and the couple splits with kindness and compassion toward each other and themselves — which is what I have learned about conscious uncoupling only recently, thanks to Gwen and Chris, even though I had divorced many years prior with similar thoughts and actions. And I am also cognizant that they are parents to two young children, Apple, 9, and Moses, 7 — most of us have feelings about divorce when the couple’s children are so young.
And that’s a theme I keep coming back to; few people, if any, care if a couple that’s divorcing is childfree. That’s unfair to the couple — divorce can be just as painful whether there are kids involved or not, and some people divorce because of the desire to have children or not (think Elizabeth Gilbert and Eat, Pray, Love).
Still, most seem to be much more concerned with divorce that’s occurring among couples with young — under minor age — children. But most of those couples don’t entertain the idea of divorce lightly — like Gwen and Chris, they spend a lot of time trying to make things work before they see divorce as the only option, even if they don’t go to marital counseling (which doesn’t always work). So that’s why allegedly unbiased articles that end up in mainstream press (and as a longtime journalist in mainstream press I understand the challenges, failings and realities of mainstream press) and opinion pieces discouraging divorce and discouraging, shaming and judging those who divorce disturb me.
The latest is in the Boston Globe from Jennifer Graham, who also writes for and supports the Coalition for Divorce Reform, whose goal through the Parental Divorce Reduction Act is to make divorce harder for parents of minor kids. I debated CDR co-founder Beverly Willet in the New York Times awhile back because I strongly believe divorce is a private decision between a couple and government should keep out of that decision.
Graham, upset by the idea of celebrating divorce and the trend of divorce parties, writes:
Yet even the most vehement argument put forth by liberty lovers is enfeebled when a liberty does harm to innocent others, as divorce clearly does. Rare is the child whose reaction to his parents’ divorce is “Woo-hoo, let’s party!”
No, Ms. Graham, divorce does not “clearly” harm innocents, not every couple that divorces has kids, some kids are incredibly harmed because of their married parents’ conflict and dysfunction, and not every couple that divorces has a party. I didn’t; so there!
Her suggestion is that couples spend a day in divorce court to get their “aha” moment about what’s to come:
If people were privy to real divorce hearings — the downward, embarrassed faces at dissolution, the furious chill of repeated child-support hearings — they might rethink the severity of their own troubles.
It’s an interesting idea but I find it intriguing for a vastly different reason than she does; seeing the workings of family court may make a couple rethink the way they divorce. Instead of having a high-conflict divorce, they may choose mediation or collaborative law instead of hiring pricy attorneys who often fuel the anger and going to family court, which is a disaster.
Maybe, just maybe, it would get them to consciously uncouple, and how wonderful would that be for their children?
If you have kids, you and your former spouse will forever be tied together. That is a fact. We can’t keep ignoring the reality that divorce doesn’t end a relationship but just transforms it if kids are involved. Parenthood creates “enduring connections, ties that outlast the severance of the adult relationship,” writes University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson in Family Law and the Indissolubility of Parenthood, and those ties have all sorts of ramifications for couples, kids and governments. “Facing up to the indissolubility of parenthood is one of the great challenges of our time.”
Graham writes that “for many, divorce doesn’t end problems, but creates new ones.” That can indeed be true. But that isn’t a reason to stay in a bad marriage and, guess what, Ms. Graham and Ms. Willet — couples need to decide that for themselves.