Statistics show that nearly 55% of marriages in the United States end in divorce at the present time, and those numbers have been steadily increasing for the past forty years. When you are involved in the divorce process, every divorce can appear to be “high conflict.” However, just because a divorce case requires some litigation, or the parties have disagreements about issues, does not mean a case is “high conflict.” Most divorces have manageable conflict that the parties can, with time, work through and have a mutually civil understanding. However, there are some cases that go beyond the pale. There is extensive litigation, both during and after the divorce, and the parties are unable to agree on anything, either regarding property distribution or custody and parenting time. These cases are commonly called “high conflict” and there are not a lot of family law practitioners who will take these kinds of cases. However, with proper counsel, and patience, high conflict cases can be ratcheted down, and appropriate boundaries to avoid conflict can be established.
How Do I Know If My Case is Special?
All divorces have some level of acrimony. There’s no way of getting around it. When people have been emotionally attached to one another and have invested significant emotional and psychological energy to making a relationship work, receiving notice that the other side wants to legally and forever terminate relationship is difficult, upsetting, and often makes people react instinctively towards preservation. All of those responses are normal. They are also, generally, somewhat short lived, and while the process is rarely a happy one, most of the time, the parties recognize the situation for what it is, and are able to civilly coexist.
However, with high conflict divorces, that is not the case. In most instances, a high conflict divorce results from a refusal of the party who didn’t file for divorce to reconcile how their spouse could leave them. Many times, one of the parties, usually the non-filing party, has a personality that borders on narcissistic or ego maniacal. With these types of personalities, because they are psychologically unable to self-assess and realize that they, too, are part of the reason for the divorce, there is not likely to be a gradual “coming to terms” with the fact that the divorce, in many circumstances, was inevitable. Instead, they cling to the idea that they have done nothing wrong, and that it is the filing spouse’s “fault.”
Often times, the parties in what ultimately become high conflict cases, attend marriage counseling or family therapy to try and work out their differences, hopefully leading to a happier and healthier relationship. Usually, in our experience, a good indicator that a case will be high conflict is if marriage counselling fails, and if the reason for that failure is because one party refuses to recognize they are, in any way, the cause of discord. When one party is willing to say that they know there are issues, but the other spouse refuses to acknowledge their own flaws and points the finger squarely at the other, you can bet you will have a significant and lengthy conflict if and when you file for divorce. As a general rule, if your spouse or the parent of your child has a demanding, and unapologetic demeanor, you have significantly increased odds of having a high conflict case.
What Can I Do to Limit the Conflict?
First and foremost, you must hire good, competent counsel. Making sure you have a family law attorney who knows and understands these kinds of cases, will be able to provide you with the best advice as to how you can best manage and control the outcome. Second, you must be prepared, mentally and emotionally, for the litigation before you file. The process can be grueling and painful, and often times, there can be unfounded and visceral allegations. We often suggest that clients begin working with a therapist who can help them work through the roller coaster of emotions that often accompany these cases. Second, you must have clear, enforceable boundaries with the other person, about every facet of your separated existence. Putting a high conflict spouse or partner into a clear, well defined zone of acceptable behavior, can bring predictability and control. We often affectionately refer to this practice with our clients as the “boundary line benefit.” When you know where the boundaries are, and do not move there, your life will benefit significantly.
There will be times where you will be tempted to blur those boundaries for one occasion or another. In these cases, you cannot do that, even initially. If you agree to blur the boundaries, or have a written agreement for a one-time exception, you will find yourself combating that exception for a lengthy period of time. Why? Because in these cases, that exception will become the rule, and if there is a complaint about it later, they will go to the Court and blame you, a tactic which can be very effective. As a result, you must establish and stick to boundaries. Finally, you must be willing to enforce your Court orders, which should be clear and well-articulated. Those orders will be the official boundaries and rules that you can enforce to ensure as much peace as is possible in these cases. Many people lose ground or end up in litigation because they are unwilling to enforce these orders the when the first or second violation happens. They wait and delay, but by the time they finally get around to filing the motion, the need for Court intervention is passed, or the Court will look at the delay as a statement of acquiescence on the part of the moving party. That can result in the tables being turned on the person filing the motion and being made out to be a complainer and the source of the conflict, even when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
At Fowler & Williams, PLC, we have specialized in high conflict divorce and child custody matters for years. Our combined experience in handling these cases provides us with a unique perspective and ability to litigate and obtain successful results for our clients. If you anticipate that you will have a high conflict divorce or custody matter, or are already in the midst of one and need an attorney, o a new attorney, we would love to speak with you. Please, don’t hesitate to contact our office for a free consultation about your case today.