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How to Tackle High Conflict Divorce

high conflict divorce Feb 25, 2020

By Karen McMahon

While most divorces include their fair share of emotional turmoil, stress and contention, high conflict divorce takes it to another level.  There is more black and white thinking, blame and accusation, reactivity, deflecting, defending, and degrading. High conflict divorces arise from painfully broken marriages where patterns of communication and problem solving have been unhealthy at best and more often non-existent.  

Individuals entering high conflict divorce either present as hostile, abusive, rigid and domineering or on the opposite end of the spectrum, are depleted and discouraged, have lost their sense of self and self confidence and spend their days walking on eggshells to avoid the unavoidable conflict that has become their norm.

Many high conflict personalities are on the personality disorder (PD) spectrum of Narcissists, Sociopaths, Psychopaths, Borderline and other PDs.  Those struggling with addiction, alcoholism, bipolar and other mental health issues may also present as high conflict.

If you are married to a high conflict personality, the above description of both you and your spouse will resonate.  

Perhaps you are trying to summon the courage to leave or you have already decided to get out but are scared to death to tell your spouse.  Or, perhaps you already pulled the trigger, are struggling on the battlefield of high conflict divorce, wondering if you will ever attain the freedom you deeply desire.

If you are facing a high conflict divorce, your most basic and best approach is to work on yourself, the only one you have control over. 

After years of trying to control the other person’s powerful presence, you may be challenged to keep the focus on your thoughts, feelings and actions. As you practice keeping the focus on you, you will become calmer and more responsive. You will also become a more effective partner with your attorney, enabling him/her to attain the most positive legal outcome possible. 

What makes high conflict divorce even harder is everything you read about divorce says you SHOULD do it amicably, you MUST be a cooperative coparent, and NEVER drag your children into the legal quagmire of attorneys for the children and forensic psychologists. Yet if you try to abide by those rules (which are in fact ideal for standard divorce), you find yourself right back where you began...shutting up or shutting down, saying yes when you want to say no, having no voice, no hope.  It feels like your same old patterns. It feels wrong because it is an IMPOSSIBLE strategy when divorcing someone with a truly difficult personality. 

The hard truth is that high conflict personalities, personality disorders and parental alienation exist in today’s divorce court.  

If this is your reality, psychological experts are necessary to support and protect you and your children, legal representation for the children may be a vital piece for you and a parental coordinator may be your best investment post divorce.

While every divorce is overwhelming and the terrain unknown and scary, it is even more so with high conflict divorce because of the many additional players that may be required to navigate the unique complexities that arise. 

  • How do you learn about the high conflict personality that you have been living with AND your part, what drew you to him/her and what you can do to get healthy?

  • How do you figure out the court system, hire the right attorney who truly understands the personality issues you are dealing with, and get clear on what to expect and how to negotiate most effectively?

  • How are you supposed to know what an attorney for the children does, how they represent your child, what your relationship with them will be and what it costs to hire one?

  • How do you determine if a custody evaluation is necessary and if so, what it is, how it works and the role it might play in your divorce negotiations?

And most importantly, how do you get healthy, heal from the guilt and shame of marrying, fighting with and ultimately leaving (or being left by) your spouse? This is the secret to becoming less reactive, more confident in your decisions and more effective in your communication, skills you need now and which will serve you well in the future for a much more enjoyable and rewarding life. 

You have most likely entered this divorce a shell of your former self, so how are you to do all this?

Journey Beyond Divorce provides a comprehensive playbook on High Conflict Divorce that enlists top professionals in every field including attorneys, psychologists, parenting experts, financial advisors, international divorce specialists and experts of special needs children. The series guides you through every step of the process including: 

  • Litigation

    • Choosing the right attorney
    • The court system - how it is helpful and where it is broken
    • Why some cases go to trial and what you can do to avoid it if possible  

  • Mental health

    • Protecting the children
      • Creating a solid custody schedule
    • Parental alienation
    • Parallel parenting

  • Protecting your finances 
    • Financial forensics
      • Financial infidelity
      • Family owned businesses
    • Estate planning 

  • International divorce 

    • The role of immigration and
    • Custody across borders

  • Challenges divorcing with special needs children
    • The unique costs involved 
    • Resources available to support you 

If you are entering or in the midst of a high conflict divorce, get the support you need.  Listen to our High Conflict Divorce podcast series.

If you are ready for emotional, practical strategic support around your unique circumstances, Book a Free Rapid Relief Call where you are guaranteed to emerge with more clarity and confidence and an action plan for effectively moving forward.


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