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Divorce as a Lifestyle:  High-Conflict Divorce and Tips to Survive it

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Not too many people have anything nice to say about divorce.  While departing spouses are rarely at their best during divorce, they can be forgiven for struggling through the often difficult transition that is divorce.  For victims of high-conflict divorce though, the relatively normal “bad divorce” is merely a walk in the park.

Potentially 10 percent of all divorces have some high-conflict elements.  When the conflict between spouses becomes intractable, the entire family system is drawn into a divorce action that persists for years.  This intractability, usually on the part of one high-conflict personality, leads to a description of these nightmare divorces as “divorce as a lifestyle.”

So how is a high-conflict divorce different from any other divorce action? According to a presentation by the American Bar Association (ABA), some potential markers of a high-conflict divorce include:

  • Parental/spousal conflict continues regardless of attempts at alternative dispute resolution, court actions, and intervention by processes of the court such as a guardian ad litem, counsel for the children, custodial evaluations, psychological evaluations, and anything else unequipped courts can require of a family under attack by a parental litigant.
  • High-conflict divorce isolates the victim spouse/parent and children of the couple. Unable to explain or understand the behavior of a parent who maintains a litigated environment, children suffer tremendous stress, may be emotionally or physically abused by the offending parent, and may disengage from friends and school, or disappear into the lives of their friends and school to avoid the interminable impact of chronic litigation in their home.  While counseling is always recommended to assist children in these circumstances, most therapists are not experienced with the narcissistic tendencies of a parental litigant.   A therapist may be charmed, or threatened, by the parental litigant.   Therapists can willingly or unwittingly become the next courtroom pawn—disposing of any credibility a child may have wished to find in them as a counselor.
  • Parental litigants are quick to blame the victim parent for alienation and other behaviors. According to the ABA, “allegations of parental alienating or programming behaviors are a major element” of these types of cases. High-conflict personalities frequently violate court orders, which creates a depraved, abusive situation in which the victim parent is forced to defend themselves and their children routinely in courtroom settings, destroying their emotional and financial wellbeing.

Tips on surviving a high-conflict divorce

Few people realize they are in a high-conflict situation until they find there is no natural end to their divorce conflict.  By then, friends, family, and support resources are expecting the end of the divorce, just like you.  But the end is not in sight.  Here are some points to consider when you realize it is happening to you:

  • Retain an attorney with stated experience with narcissists and high-conflict personalities. In the end, strong, skilled legal help is the only way to navigate a high-conflict divorce.
  • Consider avoiding mediation. Techniques like collaborative divorce and mediation often work to muddy boundaries and help a high-conflict personality emotionally and financially batter their partner.  These types of facilitative settings usually do not work with narcissists.
  • Decisive, tightly written court Orders and agreements are essential. Strong legal skill is needed to create documents that curtail the invasive activities of a high-conflict personality.  If there is a small, undefined gap in any Order, it will be exploited to cause the next hearing.  Again, knowledgeable, patient legal representation is often the only means of protecting yourself and your children in a high-conflict divorce.

When does it end?

Sadly, high-conflict divorce can consume a childhood, requiring that children age out of the conflict.  Narcissistic personalities do not change with age.

If you find yourself in a high-conflict divorce proceeding, talk frankly with your attorney about their experience and ability to guide and protect your family in the years ahead.  Ask for a referral to more experienced counsel if needed.

Children, and all humans, thrive in low-conflict settings.  Work with legal counsel that can help you survive your divorce and its aftermath.

Highly reputable divorce law firm serves clients in Baltimore County and Baltimore City 

The Law Offices of Allyson B. Goldscher, LLC provide trusted legal counsel on high-conflict divorce, divorce mediation, and other matters of family law.  When you want friendly, committed legal service and strong legal representation, contact us or call 410-602-9522 today.