Grimes and Elon Musk, Joe Jonas and Sophia Turner, Kevin and Christine Costner: Is the era of conscious uncoupling over?

Gwyneth Paltrow infamously coined the term "conscious uncoupling" when she and Chris Martin split in 2014. The landscape seems different in 2023.

Is conscious uncoupling, the term Gwyneth Paltrow coined during her split from Chris Martin, over? (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images)
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Celebrities breaking up is nothing new, yet this year feels different. From Kevin and Christine Costner's acrimonious divorce battle, to Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner's surprising custody dispute, it seems like stars' personal lives are spilling out into the media more than ever before. On Monday, Grimes sued Elon Musk over parental rights of their three children after tweeting, "tell Elon to let me see my son."

Is the era of conscious uncoupling over?

Gwyneth Paltrow infamously coined the phrase when she announced in a 2014 Goop blog post (titled "Conscious Uncoupling") that she and Chris Martin were separating. "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," she wrote.

Although the actress-turned-CEO received a lot of heat for the phrase at the time, it really set the trend for how celebrities navigate divorce in the public eye: issue a joint statement, vow to co-parent and keep any mud-slinging behind closed doors. That hasn't exactly been the playbook in 2023.

Here's what experts have to say about the seemingly new breakup landscape.

'The biggest issue in a messy divorce is ego.'

Ronn Torossian, founder and chairman of 5WPR, believes some of the aforementioned stars are their own worst enemy.

"While a divorce is between two individuals, it only takes one party to feel entitled to take it from civil to nasty. This often stems from someone's desire to keep up appearances, and if one party feels slighted or embarrassed, or wants to maintain a lifestyle that they can only attain with the support of that partner, they become desperate," he explains to Yahoo Entertainment. "Ironically, to maintain this public persona of a jet setter or doting dad, they take steps that ruin their reputation regardless, often ending up as the villain in their divorce."

Child support and custody issues seem to be the driving force behind some current public battles.

"While many high-profile divorces have children involved, this is not the basis for it to turn nasty," Torossian adds. "There have been an excess of celebrity breakups and divorces this year that involve children and were still handled privately with the public knowing very few details."

Ariana Grande is one example of that — but her breakup caused its own PR issues.

Grande and her husband of two years, Dalton Gomez, split in July after two years of marriage. While some could argue they consciously uncoupled as neither has spoken badly about the other in the press (or court documents), the breakup hasn't been scandal free.

"Grande's marriage could be described as ultra-private. She was in control of what the public knew and when they were seen together, making it difficult for anyone to determine when the marriage truly ended," Torossian shares.

At the same time divorce news was announced, so too was Grande's new relationship. The Grammy-winning singer has been dating her Wicked co-star, Ethan Slater. He was married with a young child when he joined the cast and it's unclear when Slater and Grande got together. It's been a messy situation in the press and on social media.

"Many were still vocal with disappointment in the situation. Slater just doesn't have the star power to drive this story into headlines the way divorces involving two well-known celebrities do," Torossian notes.

What can, and cannot, be made public when stars file for divorce?

"There will always be celebrity relationships where one or both parties feel they must make their case public," celebrity divorce lawyer Peter Walzer, of Walzer Melcher & Yoda, adds to Yahoo.

"People make their family law matters public when angry, desperate, or both. 'Smart' celebrities are still consciously uncoupling. Conscious uncoupling protects the parties and their children from unwanted publicity," he continues. "Whatever the parties can do in our violent society to prevent their cases from becoming public is wise. Privacy and security should be paramount for the celebrity or high-net-worth person going through a breakup."

Sometimes it's out of a celebrity's hands as to what lands in the media as Walzer notes "divorce records are public in most states."

Still, that means when a star puts sensitive information in a filing, that person does so knowing the public might find out... like when Kevin accused Christine of spending excess money on plastic surgery, or she alleged he told their three children they were divorcing over FaceTime. Turner shed a lot of light into the end of her and Jonas's marriage in her custody filing.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07:  Grimes and Elon Musk attend
Grimes and Elon Musk attend "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & the Catholic Imagination," the 2018 Costume Institute Benefit at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

A star doesn't have to be married for things to turn messy, like Grimes and Musk. However, Walzer points out that that is a parentage case (i.e. the parties were not married) and it's different what is made public.

"The court records in parentage cases can be viewed only by the parties and their attorneys," Walzer explains, which is why many of the documents in Grimes's case is sealed.

Who was the last couple to really consciously uncouple?

Torossian highlights Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott's split at the end of last year as one that went smoothly, by Hollywood standards. He believes they "chose to consciously uncouple and seem to be maintaining a fantastic co-parenting relationship." Although they were never married, they share two young children so it could have gone either way.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 15: Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott  attend the 2022 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 15, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott attend the 2022 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 15, 2022 in Las Vegas. (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

"Years on from their initial separation, there has been very little public fallout, and they seemingly work well together to put their kids first," he adds.

'I believe we've seen the end of "conscious uncoupling," for now, in favor of public separations.'

Although "trends come and go," Torossian acknowledges there is a current wave of contentious splits. As for what is permeating this kind of breakup culture, he points to social media.

"While it's been around for years, social media continues to impact the way celebrities and the public connect with one another. Not everyone has the restraint to keep their private life offline, especially as fans seem to seek out information on their favorites more than ever before," he explains.

Jonas and Turner's breakup is an example of one that seemed to lift the lid on celebrity divorces and social media was heavily involved in public perception. The pair, who were married for four years and share two young kids, have entered mediation to hash out a parenting and custody plan and divorce details. The mediation is expected to last four days. Walzer believes mediation is the way to go, which is typically the move of the rich and famous.

"Most people in the public eye handle their cases privately through mediation or arbitration. You never hear about these savvy celebrities because they keep their affairs private," he concludes. "The apparent 'wave' of public breakups may indicate a trend, or it may be that we are not seeing the whole picture. Conscious uncoupling is a private, sensible and safe way of breaking up."