Divorce is regularly billed as one of life's most traumatic events; guaranteed to devastate children, damage adults and leave all parties financially and emotionally wiped out. But after a huge spike in the Seventies, it seems those in today's moribund marriages remember the toll the combative process took on their Baby Boomer parents, and are increasingly designing bespoke break-ups instead - continuing to share names, neighbourhoods, holidays and even the family home.
To wit, this week actress Sienna Miller, 36, explained that she spends "half her time" living with her ex, actor Tom Sturridge, so that their daughter Marlowe, four, has stability. "Everybody will stay over or we'll all go on holiday, because we genuinely want to be around each other," she says. "It's great for our daughter that she has two parents who love each other."
Fellow actor James Nesbitt's 23-year marriage may have ended last year, but he told the Telegraph last week that he still "lives round the corner" from his ex-wife, and the erstwhile family spends Christmas together. Even in Hollywood, once a bastion of Babylonian plate-throwing, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck have remained so reluctant to divorce after their split that friends have openly wondered if a reunion is on the cards.
The great conscious uncouplers themselves, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, were the most visible early adopters of the trend, holidaying together shortly after announcing their split, and still hanging out as a family. Last Christmas, they took the children to a Broadway show with Gwyneth's mum, Blythe Danner.
In the UK, it was reported this week that Sir Melvyn Bragg has given his estranged second wife, Cate, a multimillion-pound payment to buy her own house close to their former marital home, as part of a very amicable split that will see the pair remain married. "It's nothing to do with religion, but Melvyn does not like the idea of divorce," said a friend.
He's not alone. The divorce rate is at a 40-year low, and has dropped by around 30 per cent over the past decade, with lawyers reporting growing numbers of clients who want to split amicably, without the battle of divorce. (The only group seeing a rise in divorce is the over-fifties, perhaps because older couples are more financially stable and less concerned about the impact on older children.)
James Hall of law firm Hall Brown, which recently conducted a study of divorce rates, said: "A common factor is eagerness to avoid the kind of long drawn-out, bitter and expensive divorce [couples] have read about in the media."
And, according to leading business and financial advice firm Grant Thornton UK, "almost a quarter of law firms surveyed believe the Brexit vote may lead to [couples] delaying divorce [due to financial uncertainty]".
The research also found that the traditional adulterous meltdown has been replaced by "growing apart" as the most popular reason for a split. Perhaps that's why, without the tempestuous emotions of betrayal to navigate, couples are increasingly taking a softer approach to marital breakdown - but is "semi-splitting" an antidote to years of acrimony, or are couples just kidding themselves and prolonging the agony?
"I do think it's the way forward," says Paula Cryer, 41, a music therapist. "Our children are just five and eight, and my ex and I couldn't make our marriage work, but we are still friends. For the first four months, Christian slept in the spare room, then we pooled our resources and rented him a nice flat nearby, so he can come back at weekends, while I go out and see friends."
This "bird's nest" approach - the trend for parents to keep the family home and take turns parenting there - is increasingly popular. "My parents had a very nasty divorce and we didn't see my dad for years," explains Paula. "When it comes to our children, we will do whatever it takes to keep things stable."
Increased awareness of the impact marriage break-ups have on children has led to a new approach, says Sara Davison, break-up and divorce coach and author of Uncoupling - How to Survive and Thrive After Breakup and Divorce.
"Couples with children will often take longer to leave, as there is more at stake for them," she says. "They want to make sure they won't have any regrets. The first stage will be separate bedrooms, explained to the kids by saying Mum or Dad snores. The second stage will be taking turns to look after the children at weekends, so that even though they live in the same house they will alternate child care. Then the final stage is operating separately during the week, too."
Sara thinks the arrangement can work well for children. "It will acclimatise them to the split when it finally happens, as they will be used to spending time with each parent separately," she says. "It can also be helpful for the adults, to build their confidence as single parents."
Pretending everything is fine when it's not, however, is bad news. "If the atmosphere is acrimonious, the children will know," she adds. "Sometimes a clean break is a good way to remove them from a difficult environment."
Julian Hawkhead, senior partner at Stowe Family Law, agrees. "I wonder whether children who have separated parents find it easier to come to terms with the future if their parents are no longer connected to each other," he says. Remaining un-divorced can cause legal problems, too. "Those who do not divorce are potentially facing some serious pitfalls," he warns. "With divorce comes the ability to obtain a financial settlement, splitting assets such as property, savings and pensions once and for all and not leaving loose ends."
Paula Cryer isn't worried. "The kids just want to see their dad regularly, and neither of us is looking for someone else. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, when they'll be older and less reliant on having both parents around," she insists.
They're not planning on divorcing, either - "at the moment, everything is working well. I can't imagine marrying again any time soon."
"Increasingly, it's not uncommon for separated couples to remain married," says Hawkhead. "If you don't want to marry again, why bother?" But, "such arrangements can only be temporary though", he warns. Because however cosy your bird's nest, the impact of a new partner is often going to knock it right out of the tree.
One move that could ease the pain of a break-up considerably, both lawyers and therapists agree, would be introduction of the "no-fault" divorce, a scheme supported by top UK divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag, who recently said: "As soon as a fault-based petition is lodged, putting the blame for the marriage firmly on to one spouse, the temperature rises."
Currently, divorcing couples have to either cite "unreasonable behaviour", "adultery" or wait two years if both agree (and five years if one doesn't). "This would have made a huge difference to us," says Alex Wells, 48, a lecturer. "My ex and I split up because we fell out of love. It wasn't anyone's 'fault'. Knowing that if we wanted to move on, we had to either find a reason for blame or wait two years, when we already knew it was over, just prolonged the misery," she goes on. "It's now 22 months later, we're both with new partners - but, technically, we're still married. It seems ridiculous."
Supreme Court judge Lord Wilson of Culworth also recently argued that the law must modernise, adding that he and other family law experts were "very disappointed" that a no-fault divorce system had so far failed.
In the meantime, the "un-divorced" are doing their own thing, creating arrangements that work for their circumstances - albeit temporarily.
"We'll have to get divorced one day, if one if us wants to remarry," says Paula. "But for now, we still have the family house and no drop in living standards. There's no chance of reconciliation, but this way is so much better than a bitter divorce, where we both end up poor and hating each other."
And having seen previous generations do just that, perhaps the new vanguard of un-divorcees - house-sharing, child-caring and refusing to play the blame game - have finally got it right.
The Daily Telegraph