SO JUST WHAT IS “CONSCIOUS UNCOUPLING?”

When actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin announced that they were embarking on a “conscious uncoupling,” it initially sounded like some sort of patchouli-scented, Hollywood gibberish.

But Chris and Gwyneth are merely using an unfamiliar name to embark on a familiar process: a pre-divorce separation that lets the family test the waters of mom and dad living apart before any kind of legal process begins.

The Paltrow-Martins are deciding how they are going to live their lives before they take the official step of filing a lawsuit. The family gets to test out who lives where, who is going to pay what to whom, when the kids will see each parent, etc. It’s a way of taking power away from the courts and keeping it with the parents. And hopefully it’s a way of easing the family into their new lives.

The truth is that people have been “consciously uncoupling” for a long time. They just called it “separation.” Some states even have laws regarding separation, but Texas does not. When a Texas couple is separated, regardless for how long, they’re still married until they’re officially divorced.

What’s the upside to “conscious uncoupling?” For one, there are no rules. The couple can make them up as they go along, and do what they think is best for themselves and their children.

What’s the downside? There are no rules. The couple can make them up as they go along.

In the case of independently wealthy Gwyneth Paltrow, daughter of Hollywood royalty and a film star in her own right, and independently wealthy Chris Martin, frontman to one of the world’s most popular bands, neither mom nor dad is in danger of being left with no assets or access to their two children. If one of them tries to deny the other of time with the kids or shortchange the other on the couple’s assets, they can easily deploy an army of the best family attorneys to fix the situation.

That is rarely the case in the real world. A spouse who has sidelined his or her career to raise children only to find out that the spouse is cheating probably doesn’t trust the soon-to-be ex on such things as finances, child support or child custody.

In a case like that, in the absence of a legal framework, one spouse or the other (usually the one with control over the family’s finances) can use that time, weeks, months, or a year or two to get themselves set up better for a divorce and to hurt the other spouse in the divorce.

So is a “conscious uncoupling” right for you and your family? Maybe. Maybe not. If you fear that your spouse could leave you destitute and deprived of your children, you’re probably not in the kind of relationship suited for such an arrangement. But if you feel empowered in your marriage, more or less equal incomes, equal control over your finances, and you and your spouse are in agreement over custody issues, then it might work for you.