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Strategies for a Divorce Involving a High-Conflict Personality


Published on May 7th, 2021

Going through a divorce can be extremely stressful even in situations where the parties have worked out general agreements ahead of time or are acting amicably towards one other. On the other hand, the unfortunate truth is that a large amount of cases are contentious and have the added emotional and financial challenges where one spouse is particularly uncooperative. Gaslighting, escalating arguments, and stonewalling are common behavioral traits of a high-conflict personality, and if the person you’re divorcing falls into this category, it’s possible you may need to change your approach to the divorce proceedings.

Alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation are less likely to work in cases involving at least one high-conflict person, since these people tend to increase conflict rather than try to reach a resolution. As many family law practitioners come across these high-conflict types during the course of a divorce matter, it’s important to try to head off problems caused by his or her conflict to help reach a more smooth resolution.

Recognize the High-Conflict Personality

If you’re unsure whether your confrontational spouse fits the definition, ask yourself if his or her behavior is part of a larger pattern. People with high-conflict personalities demonstrate a pattern of unmanaged emotions and extreme behavior that is often intensified during the divorce process.  For example the ongoing behaviors can include:

  • An unwillingness to accept reality;
  • An inability to control one’s emotions;
  • Persistent anger or distrust;
  • Verbal abuse, physical aggression or threats;
  • Uncooperativeness in the care of children;
  • Unwillingness to compromise; or
  • Constantly blaming others.

Have a Strategic Plan

High-conflict people can be excessively litigious, so strategizing with your attorney from the onset can help you from potentially avoiding getting dragged through years of costly litigation. Your plan will likely include a combination of tactics aimed at mitigating the impact of your spouse’s behavior – while asserting your own rights and requests. The ultimate goal is to keep him or her from derailing the proceedings and causing excessive delays and unnecessary interim litigation.

There are several approaches that may work to further the ultimate goal:

Minimize contact

For many high-conflict couples it becomes difficult to have conversations or even be in the same room with one another. To set healthier boundaries and to avoid verbal confrontations (especially in front of children), it may be necessary to limit your communication to email or texts even if you’re still living together. Digital communication is a safe way to discuss parenting schedules and other related issues. Having a digital record of these discussions could also come in handy if a later dispute arises regarding a decision or actions that were taken as a result.

Putting your answers in writing is also a good way to keep from responding emotionally and tensions from escalating. Third-party applications such as Our Family Wizard or Talking Parents can provide a secure location for your correspondence.

Keep good records

It’s important to keep and manage documentation related to child-related and financial issues that arise during your case.  In a divorce with conflicting accounts or opinions, your records could potentially serve as evidence that discredits false claims or corroborates your position.  For example, email and other written documentation can provide a convenient record if you need to recall something that took place months or over a year prior.

Stay relaxed

From the discovery process to negotiations regarding parenting issues, a high-conflict person will usually put up an exhausting fight.  It can be tempting to turn to anger and argue with your uncooperative partner.  Instead, try to focus on finding solutions to the issues at hand and avoid taking the bait.  The goal and hope is that your calm and rational behavior will work in your favor.

Keep the children away from the court process

High-conflict parties that are parents often view children as pawns that could influence decisions in their favor – they may even attempt to damage a child’s relationship with the other parent if they believe it will provide an advantage with child-related issues. You need to do everything possible to protect your child emotionally and psychologically during this time, and make every effort that you can to keep him or her away from the court proceedings.

Prepare to negotiate

A high-conflict spouse is likely to resist making concessions or agreements, but don’t let that sway you. A skilled family law practitioner can help you figure out which terms are worth fighting for and the best tactics for achieving them. Prepare to communicate regularly with your attorney, particularly regarding any high-conflict behavior your spouse displays.

If you’re planning to ask your high-conflict spouse for a divorce or you’re currently involved a pending case with such a person, it’s crucial to work with a professional that has extensive experience facing this personality type and can provide guidance and what to expect during the divorce matter.

Davis Friedman, LLP, is a top-rated family law firm that has experience with high-conflict divorce. Contact our law firm online or call us at 312-782-2220. When you choose to work with one of our knowledgeable family law attorneys you will receive a skilled and passionate advocate for your case.

Have questions? Contact us about working together.

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