It’s hard to justify feeling awful for Gwyneth Paltrow, but I’ve been a proud member of Team Gwyneth since March. Please join us. Lots of seats available.
Paltrow has collected her share of haters by, pick one: being beautiful, winning a best actress Oscar at 26, naming her kids Apple and Moses, creating a blog called goop.com with recipes for Larb Gai, and being married for a decade to cool Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.
Well, nix that last thing.
On March 25, Paltrow did the unthinkable. She blogged news of her pending divorce from Martin in a heartfelt note filled with grace, maturity and an eye on protecting the couple’s two young children from any additional pain. Her mistake was using the term “conscious uncoupling,” which set the blogosphere ablaze with ridicule.
The term, coined by psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, is not new and it’s hardly a thing of fright. Those who embrace conscious uncoupling bravely accept that their own baggage played a role in the breakup. In this way, animosity dissolves more quickly and the couple can co-parent in a more functional and healthy way.
Such an important conversation is not limited to goop. Possibly the most transformative effort ever to promote healthier families post-divorce occurred in the Twin Cities this month.
The international symposium, titled “Divorce, What’s Love Got to Do With It?” was held May 13-16 at Oak Ridge Conference Center in Chaska and was funded by the Fetzer Institute, a Michigan-based foundation whose mission is fostering — brace yourself — “love, forgiveness and compassion.”
Fifty experts came from as far away as South Africa, Australia, Italy and Brazil. Many brought skills in areas that might seem surprising, including architecture and healing after cancer.
For four emotion-packed days, participants considered provocative questions, such as “How can judges incorporate reconciliation and forgiveness into Family Court?” “What role does design play in making Family Court less anxiety producing?”
“Is Family Court even the right place for divorcing couples or might a ‘family transition center’ be better?” And, “How can ‘marriage hospice’ be incorporated into the process to allow parents to fully grieve?”
These ideas and dozens more will be offered to lawyers, judges, educators, social justice advocates and psychologists in hopes of creating more functional models of family law.
Interestingly, another Minnesota group made small but notable change in this realm in May. Since October of 2012, about 20 legislators, lobbyists and advocates on both sides of the contentious child custody and parenting-time debate have quietly worked together under the guidance of California über-facilitator Miki Kashtan. In early May, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law results of their initial effort, including new language acknowledging that even warring parents can cooperate in rearing their kids and that the “best interest” of children may change as they age.
Hardly sea-changing, but progress nonetheless. “They’re laying a foundation to understanding,” said Mariah Levison, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Office for Collaboration and Dispute Resolution, who has been working closely with Kashtan and the Minnesota Child Custody Dialogue Group. “They are eager to build upon that foundation.”
They needn’t look far for inspiration and encouragement. “It was an amazing thing, almost impossible to describe,” said Ron Ousky, a Fetzer conference participant and veteran collaborative lawyer.
A cutting-edge conference
More than a year ago, the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) received funding from Fetzer for the cutting-edge conference. While participants’ names are hardly Paltrow-Martin recognizable, they enjoy rock-star status in this orbit, including facilitators Barbara Mcafee and Patrick O’Brien, and speakers Tara Brach, who is a leading Western teacher of Buddhist meditation, and Cheri Maples, the Wisconsin-based co-founder of the Center for Mindfulness & Justice.
Nancy Cox, a healing coach with the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, was surprised and honored to be among those invited. But she does see parallels between sitting, angst-ridden, in a doctor’s office and sitting, angst-ridden, in a lawyer’s office.
“They both trigger every difficulty you’ve ever faced in your life,” Cox said. They also offer the potential for healing.
“Any crisis creates opportunity, if one can reframe it and get the level of support needed to have that happen,” she said.
Sue Cochrane, a Hennepin County Family Court judicial officer for 18 years, agreed. She called the conference nothing short of “the tipping point.”
“We need to be there for people and not funnel them to a window,” said Cochrane, who was still feeling joyful a week after the conference. “We need to place the emphasis on kindness and caring. This is the movement we’ve been needing.”
Gail Rosenblum’s column is moving! Beginning June 15, you can read Gail on the cover of Variety, including every Sunday.
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