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High Conflict Divorce

The experience of a divorce is unique to each individual. Even within a couple, each spouse's experience is separate and distinct. In general, divorce is an emotional and painful process with stress and conflict often prevalent. Even in the best of circumstances, divorce is hard.

In the best case scenario of divorce, a couple will split amicably and handle things with fairness and respect. If there are children involved, they will put aside their differences to create a logical and reasonable parenting plan. Maybe it is a friendly divorce where the couple remains pleasant with each other and even involved in each other's lives, or perhaps the arrangement is more business-like and involves a clean separation. Sounds great, right? 

It is not always so simple. The experience of divorce falls on a spectrum, ranging from low conflict (as described above) to high conflict. In high conflict divorce, everything is exponentially difficult. If you are facing divorce and contending with a contentious, conflictive spouse, resolving things amicably may not be possible. The combativeness and conflict between the divorcing spouses can be destructive and incredibly damaging to themselves, their children, and even extended family and friends. 

High Conflict Personalities:

The High Conflict Institute (HCI) provides resources for dealing with high conflict people and details some useful research. Looking at what personality traits are typical with a high conflict personality can shed light on the challenges that may ensue in a high conflict divorce. The HCI describes high conflict individuals as those that have a repetitive pattern of high conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than resolving it. High conflict personalities commonly involve frequent: 

  • All or nothing thinking
  • Unmanaged emotions
  • Extreme behaviors
  • Blaming others

In divorce, this can translate to refusal to compromise, unreasonable demands, excessive blame, and manipulative behavior. High conflict spouses are likely to be impulsive and emotionally reactive. 

How to Deal with a High Conflict Divorce:

In another article, the HCI describes the 4 D's of high conflict divorce.  These tips are recommended to help minimize the extreme stress involved in this process:

  • Disengage: Pull back from the physical, verbal, and emotional attacks of your high-conflict spouse. Understand your triggers and develop a strategy for how to cope when triggered that does not involve fighting back. Find a way to disengage.
  • Decide: There are so many decisions to be made, especially when co-parenting is involved. If you are in a high–conflict situation, amicable compromise is likely not possible. It is recommended that you set a clear agenda for focusing on decisions that need to be made in order to avoid detour into murky, emotional, triggering territory.
  • Deliver: When communicating by email, remove all emotional words and keep your emails brief. BIFF is a book and website that advises about how to respond to high conflict people: Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm 
  • Document: Document everything that is happening. Keep notes of interactions, outcomes, dates, and times in order to protect yourself from being manipulated.

Support & Legal Representation:

When it comes to high conflict divorce, it is essential that you do not try to tackle it alone. If you are facing divorce with a high conflict spouse, you need support in managing the process.  Contact an experienced family law attorney to represent and advise you appropriately.

We also recommend that you rally your social support network. Be sure to have trusted family members or friends for emotional support and strongly consider working with a therapist for objective outside support. Surround yourself with people who value your happiness and welfare and have your best interest in mind.

Our attorneys at Dellino Law Group are highly skilled and experienced in managing divorces on all parts of the conflict spectrum, including very high conflict divorce. Our family law attorneys are well-versed in the sensitive nature of this topic area. We are prepared to help you navigate the process, offer sound legal advice and counsel, and ultimately reach a resolution.

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