Understanding High-Conflict Divorce and Custody

Most divorces and custody cases involve some level of conflict between parties. While conflict is unpleasant, it is to be expected. With the help of experienced counsel who understand how to avoid fueling conflict, most couples can work through episodic conflict to successfully resolve their disputes.

In high-conflict family law matters, by contrast, conflict between parties often begins early in the process and escalates. It is usually difficult to work through the conflict to achieve goals because for one (or both) parties, heightened conflict is the goal. In these disputes, a party with a high-conflict personality often takes the approach that “if I can’t have what I want, I’ll burn everything down.”

If this sounds familiar to you, you may be facing a high-conflict divorce or child custody case. These cases are often drawn-out and expensive and are always stressful, not only for the parties, but for their children. Divorcing a spouse with a high-conflict personality may be difficult, but necessary in order to get free and move forward with your life. While nothing can make the process easy, cultivating an understanding of high-conflict divorce can help you to be prepared.

What to Expect in High-Conflict Family Law Disputes

Every divorce is different, and that includes high-conflict divorces. However, there are some common threads that often appear in high-conflict disputes. Even if you have not yet begun your divorce or custody matter, you may have experienced some of the following in dealing with your partner:

  • Constant blame: Your partner keeps a running tally of your various misdeeds, no matter how minor, and brings them up at every opportunity.
  • Inability to compromise: Your partner views everything as a zero-sum game; even the smallest concession or move toward your position is seen as a loss.
  • Lying: Your partner lies frequently and easily, including about minor issues that don’t matter.
  • Desire for revenge: Your partner’s desire for revenge or to punish you is greater than anything else, including love for your mutual children or their own desire to move forward with life.
  • Inability to let things go: Your partner is argumentative about matters great and small, and must get in the last word. He or she may frequently revive arguments you thought were resolved.
  • Uses the children as pawns: Most parents work to resolve disputes to avoid harming their children. A high-conflict personality may see the children as instruments to wield in their ultimate goal—“winning” and/or hurting you—without concern as to how that affects the children.
  • Badmouthing you: Most divorcing couples tend to vent about each other to close friends and family, but constantly denigrating one’s partner to anyone who will listen, including the children, may indicate a high-conflict personality.
  • Constant contact: A partner who calls, texts, and emails you dozens of times a day, or attempts to micromanage every aspect of your interactions with your mutual children, is likely to escalate this behavior during a legal dispute.
  • Diagnosis of certain personality disorders: People diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder are grandiose, require constant attention, and don’t believe that they are bound by the same rules as others. This may manifest as failing to comply with court orders in your case. People with borderline personality disorder simultaneously fear abandonment and healthy relationships, with cycles of pushing a partner away, then drawing them back in. Both disorders often involve a roller coaster of dramatic, high-conflict behavior.

Most high-conflict divorce or custody disputes feature some, if not most, of these behaviors. If you are witnessing these behaviors prior to initiating your legal matter, you can expect them to escalate as the case progresses.

Choosing an Attorney for a High-Conflict Divorce or Custody Case

Choosing the right attorney is more critical than ever if you are facing a high-conflict divorce or child custody matter. A conflict-avoidant attorney may offer your partner concessions in an effort to bargain in good faith to resolve the dispute, but no concession is ever sufficient to appease a high-conflict personality. On the other hand, the tactics of an overly aggressive attorney may fuel the fire of your partner’s hostility, causing your partner to further dig in their heels. To successfully resolve a high-conflict family law dispute, you need to work with an attorney who understands the dynamics involved and who will neither fold in the face of conflict, nor provoke unnecessary antagonism.

The attorneys of Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield understand the challenges of navigating a high-conflict divorce or custody case. Achieving a negotiated settlement is usually the ideal outcome in a family law case, but when a partner cannot or will not negotiate fairly, settlement may become impossible. In those cases, the only viable option is to resolve the dispute at trial with the help of attorneys who have decades of experience litigating complex family law disputes.

If you are faced with the prospect of a high-conflict divorce or child custody matter, you do not have to navigate it alone. Located in Potomac, Maryland, we invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation.