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Getting a divorce is a difficult decision for anyone to make, and arguably even more challenging when there are children involved. When actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin announced they were separating after being married for 11 years, she popularized the term “conscious uncoupling” in an effort to put a positive spin on an otherwise distressing experience. At the time, Paltrow explained:

We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.

This plan of “conscious uncoupling” may be an admirable idea, but does it exist in Canadian law?


Conscious Uncoupling vs. Divorce

In Canada’s Divorce Act, there is no such thing as “conscious uncoupling”; rather, the only way two people who have married can end their legal union is through a divorce.

Specifically, a court may grant a divorce on the ground that there has been a “breakdown of marriage”. A breakdown of marriage is established only if:

  1. the spouses have lived separate and apart for at least one year immediately preceding the determination of the divorce proceeding and were living separate and apart at the commencement of the proceeding; or
  2. the spouse against whom the divorce proceeding is brought has, since celebration of the marriage,
    1. committed adultery, or
    2. treated the other spouse with physical or mental cruelty of such a kind as to render intolerable the continued cohabitation of the spouses.

Alternatively, in rare cases, parties can get an annulment if they are able to prove that they were not able to get married (for example, if one partner was already married), that there was a problem with their marriage ceremony (for example, if the person who performed the ceremony did not have the legal power to marry people), or that they were not able to consummate the marriage because of a physical inability or mental condition that was not known at the time of marriage.


The Idea Behind Paltrow’s Statement

Paltrow explained that when her and Chris Martin decided to separate, she wanted to reinvent the idea of divorce so as not to cause additional, unnecessary pain to their two children. She stated that the plan was for her and Chris to “be nice to each other and try and stay a family”. In other words, Paltrow and Martin intended to part amicably, maintaining mutual respect and remembering the needs of their children.

While this may be a nice idea in principle, it is not always possible to part ways amicably. Unfortunately, divorce is oftentimes much more acrimonious and contentious, through no one’s fault. In those situations, parties who have chosen to separate can still do many things to ensure that they keep their children’s needs and best interests at heart. The following are some examples of how parents can help their children better navigate this difficult time:

  • Explain the decision to your children in a compassionate manner.
  • Be willing to listen to your children’s thoughts and feelings about the separation.
  • Refrain from belittling or blaming your partner for the end of your marriage, and do not share unnecessary details of the separation with your children.
  • Tell your children that the separation is not their fault, and ensure they understand that both you and your partner will always love and be there for them.
  • Keep routines as consistent as possible given that many things will be in flux.

Separation and divorce is best handled with the assistance of a knowledgeable family law lawyer. At Gelman & Associates, our lawyers – who are knowledgeable and compassionate, but also tough when necessary – provide exceptional legal representation in all family law matters. Our goal is to always empower clients to make informed decisions about their future. We give all prospective clients a comprehensive family law kit during their initial consultation, as well as a copy of our firm’s handbook on separation and divorce. This information is full of resources that will help you understand and navigate the difficult and often complicated separation and divorce process.

With six offices throughout Aurora, Barrie, Downtown Toronto, Mississauga, North York and Scarborough, we are easily accessible by transit and off-highway. Our phone lines are open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Call us at (844) 769-0737 or 1-844-769-0737, or contact us online for an initial consultation.

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