28 Apr 2014

A conscious uncoupling

Gwyneth Paltrow has come in for much criticism over her desire to have a civilised divorce. But, says Catherine Thomas, surely she should be applauded.

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Each case and each divorce is unique. None has provoked such a uniquely vitriolic reaction as the headlines that have been spinning over Gwyneth Paltrow’s request on her website for privacy during her divorce. She hoped that as she had ‘always conducted her relationship privately’  the public and press would extend her the same courtesy for her divorce as she goes through the process to ‘consciously uncouple and co parent.’

Set in the context of the infidelity rumours, the quashed Vanity Fair piece that was supposed to expose the serene Gwyneth Paltrow and the combined fortune of about 90 million dollars has been a golden opportunity for all of those haters of Gwyneth Paltrow’s perfect cashmere existence to vent. How dare she try to have a consciously civilized parting? How dare she attend parties with her husband that she is divorcing? How dare she speak of going on holiday with her children post divorce?

The truth behind headlines is sometimes pure and simple – Gwyneth Paltrow has taken all the fun out of divorce for the public and press alike.  Or certainly, she has attempted to take the fun out of celebrity divorce. Her critics, hide their true intent with articles that parody ‘Mr and Mrs Smug’ for each move that they make during what is an involved and conscious decision for any couple.

The sad truth is that the trend is to pore over the details of celebrity divorces, big money cases and enjoy the fact that those whose lives seem perfect are flawed. One of the more alarming articles is an entire article detailing the decree nisi pronouncement of Nicole Appleton and Liam Gallagher. What is extraordinary is that something that to any divorce lawyer is just a rubber stamp, is dwelled on in an article at extraordinary length.  The fact that they ‘were not present’, the hearing was ‘sixty eight seconds’ and the precise moment when Nicole Appleton knew of his adultery is explored at astonishing length.

This signals the development of more than an obsession with celebrity culture, an obsession with private details of someone’s life that are always the most painful. Those details that involve the upheaval that comes with divorce. The move by Gwyneth Paltrow to detail her ‘philosophy’ of divorce on her website was an attempt to control what will be one of the most complicated and difficult times her family will go through. Her reward for attempting to adopt a tone and ethos that to her seems appropriate is contempt and ridicule.

There is no idea or suggestion that her approach is right for everyone, but what the reaction to her announcement has shown is that the further transparency of the family courts in divorce has had more widespread effects than have been fully explored. The argument for transparency in the family courts are that justice has to be seen to be done. There is no extension of this that justifies an insatiable appetite for the intimate details of people’s lives that is best known by divorce lawyers who know how to keep a secret.

The future is no fault divorce with mediation and arbitration used where appropriate in suitable cases. There is no space for continually attacking someone because they are rich or famous, yet just so happen to be going through a divorce. Had Gywneth Paltrow not been Gwyneth Paltrow she would have been applauded on Mumsnet for putting her children first and trying to be civilized.

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