Live
Chat Software

High Conflict vs. Low Conflict Divorce

White square with a gold border with the words high conflict vs. low conflict divorce written in black with the Freed Marcroft logo in the lower right corner Many people wonder whether their divorce will be high conflict or low conflict.

At least some amount of disagreement is likely between divorcing spouses, but most divorces are not high conflict.  In fact, the vast majority of divorces — even litigated divorces — start and stay into the “low conflict” category.

More, it’s important to know that many divorces that begin as high conflict transition to low conflict.  How?  It happens as soon as the spouses change their behavior.

As you read the characteristics of low and high conflict spouses below, think about how you’ve “flipped the script” when you’ve exhibit “high conflict” characteristics in the past.

Characteristics of Low Conflict Spouses

  • They focus on long term goals. Spouses who keep their eyes on their respective goals for after the divorce remain grounded and focused on what matters the most to them.  Inevitable bumps in the road don’t appear like mountains.
  • They take responsibility for their own choices and actions. Divorcing spouses who keep conflict from escalating don’t waste time and energy pointing fingers at the other person. Even when they don’t want the divorce, they understand that they’re still in control of their own mindset, reaction, and behavior.
  • They don’t pull any surprises.  Suspicions are heightened during divorce, making people more reactive and defensive than usual.  So, if documents contain something a spouse didn’t expect or arrangements are changed without notice, things can snowball.  Low conflict spouses stay in touch with their spouses and share changes and updates in advance — even if they think a change is benign or superfluous.
  • They communicate effectively. Even when face-to-face communication isn’t comfortable yet, low conflict spouses use emails and texts to relay information, not to threaten, antagonize, or point out flaws.
  • They seek a reasonable, fair settlement. Low conflict spouses want a financial settlement that is fair and equitable to both people, and a parenting plan centered in their child’s best interests.
  • They prioritize their children. Low conflict spouses understand that they need to love their children more than they hate their spouse.  Even when that’s easier said than done, they are able to set aside their own frustrations and support their child’s relationship with their co-parent.
  • They hire proactive attorneys focused on client goals.  A family law attorney should work to get you towards your goals effectively and efficiently and be your advocate — not to provoke or cause unnecessary delay.  When you get frustrated and upset, and you will, your lawyer should not fan the flames.  Hiring a divorce attorney with negotiation skills and trained in mediation and collaborative divorce can help keep things low conflict.

Signs of a High Conflict Divorce Couple

  • They don’t take responsibility for their own choices and actions.  High conflict spouses blame other people (or circumstances) for everything, failing to see their responsibility for and control over their own actions. For more on this dynamic, check out David Emerald’s excellent book “The Power of TED.”  If you’d like to read it, give us a call at 860-560-8160 and we will send you a copy on us.
  • They blame their ex for everything. High conflict spouses approach situations as the victim —chronically blaming others.  In a divorce, their go-to persecutor tends to be their spouse.  (Read on to learn why they will also often cast their own lawyer in the persecutor role.)
  • They have unreasonable expectations.  High conflict spouses expect the divorce to go exactly the way they want, even when it’s unlikely or impossible. They are easily threatened by people and situations that do not align with their beliefs or interpretations of the world.  So, for example, when their lawyer explains what a likely or reasonable outcome is given the realities of divorce law, and it doesn’t align with their expectations, they become outraged that their lawyer “isn’t fighting” for them.  (This is when they cast their own lawyer in the persecutor role.)
  • They initiate conflict and are out for revenge.  For high conflict spouses, conflict is normal and expected.  They escalate conversations, don’t have boundaries, and exhibit extreme and disproportionate emotions.  Revenge-seekers are rarely satisfied and thrive on punishing their former spouse.  They often “take back” prior agreements in favor of continuing the conflict.  Their goal is not to close the last chapter of their life and move on — it’s to be proven right (or to “punish” or prove their spouse wrong).
  • They fight via electronic communication. High conflict people use emails and texts as artillery. Their volatile communication makes agreeing on even minor issues difficult. Fighting via electronic communication can keep former spouses engaged in battle for years.
  • They undermine their co-parent’s relationship with the children. High conflict parents don’t want to “share” their children with the other parent. They don’t accept that their ex has the right to be in charge of their own home and parent the way they see fit (as long as the kids are safe). Sometimes they try to co-opt the kids by undermining their co-parent’s authority, pressuring the children to reject the other parent, and using the kids as messengers.
  • They hire an overly aggressive attorney. Hiring an overly aggressive lawyer sets the tone for an ugly divorce. These attorneys turn molehills into mountains by generating unnecessary documentation, spurious allegations against the other party, and making it impossible to settle out of court.  This causes not only additional acrimony but also additional delay and expense — and ultimately is not the most effective litigation strategy.

Next Steps

Sometimes, one spouse is low conflict and the other is high conflict.  To learn how to play your own game and stay focused and in control, read “How Do I Handle a High Conflict Spouse During Divorce?

Our first step at Freed Marcroft, the Goals & Planning Conference, is designed to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true goals.  Then, we analyze those goals and the facts of your case and present you with recommendations to move forward.

Schedule your Goals & Planning Conference today, or contact us either here or by phone at 860-560-8160.

 

Written by Meghan Freed