'Conscious Uncoupling' and Living Separately Under the Same Roof

When actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay vocalist, Chris Martin, announced their 'conscious uncoupling' back in March, the gossip papers were alight with curiosity about the couple's seemingly New Age approach to their divorce.

Fans and celebrity commentators alike have been speculating fervently over whether the pair is going to reconcile given the abundant amicability between Martin and Paltrow. Many are further baffled by a court document suggesting that they are still living together in the family home. To further confusion in this uncoupling, the two have often been spotted in public engaging in a wide variety of activities together such as having dinner with friends, holding hands at a party, riding on Vespas with their children, and even being affectionate at a family event.

Under American divorce laws, the fact that Paltrow and Martin are still living and spending lots of time together is of no legal consequence to their divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.

But amicably divorcing couples in Ontario need to be cautious about behaving in a similar manner lest they impede the granting of their divorce. Unlike the United States, Canada does not have divorce based irreconcilable differences; our only form of no-fault divorce is the one year of separation demonstrating a breakdown of marriage. Under this requirement, a couple needs to be living separate and apart for one year before the court will grant a divorce.

It is unnecessary for a couple to live in separate homes during this period; you can be separated while living in the same home. What the court will look at is whether they actually live separate lives or continue to act as spouses. In Buller v Buller, the court indicated that spouses are likely to be living separate and apart under the same roof where:

  • They occupy separate bedrooms,
  • They do not have sexual relations with each other,
  • There is minimal communication between them,
  • Neither spouse performs domestic services or maintenance for the other,
  • They eat meals separately, and
  • They do not engage in social activities together.

We are not going to speculate as to what Paltrow and Martin do in the privacy of their home. However, we can make some reasonable speculations in light of their public appearances. Given their friendliness, affection, and the fact that they are co-parents, they may be conversing and communicating beyond more than is necessary to care for their children, household maintenance, and divorce-related matters. This is further demonstrated by the wide array of evidence showing the pair engaging in family activities, socializing together, and acting confusingly as if they are still an affectionate couple. It is also possible that they are eating meals together as a family, not only because of the children, but because they still enjoy each other's company. The line between friendly exes and spouses is blurred by their behaviour and living circumstances.

While amicably divorcing couples should be commended, they need to be careful of how connected they remain while living together during separation. It is possible that an Ontario court could find that a couple behaving like Paltrow and Martin to be sharing their lives as a cohesive family unit rather than two separate individuals and co-parents. In such circumstances, the divorce could be delayed until the one year separation was properly satisfied to prove the requisite breakdown of marriage.

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