How Do I Divorce a High-Conflict Spouse?
A certain amount of conflict during a separation and divorce is completely normal. However, there are some cases where one spouse is unusually combative and seems to turn every issue into an argumentative power struggle. We often try to resolve a divorce before it gets to court, but in situations like this, that’s often not possible.
A high-conflict divorce is challenging, but not impossible to navigate. Make your way through the process by identifying the cause of the conflict if possible, keeping your goals in mind, and protecting your children. For goodness sake, don’t try to do it alone. We can help. A high-conflict person will drive you crazy if you don’t have an objective professional helping you.
What Does a High-Conflict Spouse Do?
There are certain consistent behaviors that can help you identify a high-conflict person. Sometimes this is due to a diagnosable issue such as Borderline Personality Disorder, but other times it’s just that person’s nature. When you’re going through a divorce with a high-conflict spouse, you may see these patterns of behavior:
- Turning every conversation into an argument
- Bringing up older issues that you thought had been resolved
- Involving other people in your divorce, including your children
- Refusing to bend or compromise
- Insisting on going to court
- Dragging out the divorce process
Fortunately – or unfortunately – lawyers and judges have seen this situation before, and your situation is not unique. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on how best to handle the situation, and while it won’t be easy, it isn’t anything new in the eyes of the court.
How Do I Deal With Higher Levels of Conflict in my divorce?
First and foremost, maintain your personal boundaries and keep your goals in mind. Decide which issues, such as custody arrangements or asset division, are the most important and worth fighting for, and which issues you’re more willing to concede, and stick to that.
When it comes to everyday communication, there are several strategies to keep in mind in order to keep conflict as low as possible:
- Maintain boundaries: You do not have to stay in an argumentative conversation. If a phone call or an in-person conversation turns combative, you have the right to hang up, close the door, or walk away. Always remember that you are not responsible for anyone else’s emotions and you cannot control their behaviour, but you control your own behaviour and response.
- Recognize your spouse’s tactics: People who thrive on conflict often have certain strategies that they use to start an argument or to get their way. They may threaten you, try to invoke sympathy, or use false logic to make you give in. Watch out for attempts to manipulate your emotions and trap you in an argument.
- Take care of yourself: Getting through a high-conflict divorce is extremely stressful, so it’s very important to take time for self-care. Talk to a counsellor, get help from friends and family, and make time for relaxation and for activities you enjoy.
How Can a High-Conflict Divorce Impact Our Children?
Any divorce is going to be difficult for kids, but when the level of conflict is higher than usual, it’s certainly harder on the children as well. The first thing you should do is shield them from these difficulties as much as you can. Don’t discuss the specifics of the divorce with them, and definitely don’t involve them in any arguments. If there is information you need to convey to your ex, talk to them directly; never send messages through the kids. Additionally, avoid expressing your negative feelings about your ex to the children, even though that may be difficult.
Also, remember that the level of conflict between the parents does not necessarily impact custody arrangements. Many people believe that combative parents should not have regular access to their children, but the law does not necessarily agree. Unless your ex is abusive or neglectful to your children as well as being difficult for you to deal with, the level of conflict between the two of you likely won’t have an impact on custody rulings. A difficult spouse may still be a good parent, and vice-versa.
What If I Am the Cause of the Conflict?
Are you wondering if you might be the source of the high level of conflict in your divorce proceedings? If so, being aware of the problem is the first step to solving it. Talk to a counsellor (which is a good idea for anyone going through a divorce) and ask for help in identifying negative patterns of behaviour. With some assistance, you can learn new methods of communication without conflict, making the divorce process much easier for everyone, including yourself. Additionally, ask for assistance from your friends and family to identify and reduce your conflict-heavy habits.
Call Galbraith Family Law for Assistance
When you’re going through a high-conflict divorce, it’s extra important to have expert legal advice. The lawyers at Galbraith Family Law have extensive experience with all types of divorces, and we can help you navigate this difficult situation. For a consultation, call (289) 319-0635 in the Newmarket area or (705) 727-4242 in Barrie. You can also send a message through our website.