How to Divorce a High-Conflict Spouse
For some individuals, being civil during a divorce is simply impossible. Perhaps your soon-to-be ex is confrontational, angry, or even abusive. Whatever the reason, if you foresee constant fighting and conflict in your divorce, it’s a good idea to get on top of the issue now. If you are involved in a high-conflict divorce, find out what you can do to make the process easier and more efficient.
Focus on Moving Forward
It will do you no good to dwell on past hurts. If you are seeking a divorce, then that means you are moving towards a new chapter of your life, and it is best not to focus on the painful memories you are trying to leave behind. While your spouse may seek to bait you or argue, do your best to ignore his or her comments and stick to business. If possible, avoid seeing your spouse at all without your lawyer present.
Keep Your Feelings to Yourself
You may feel tempted to smooth things over with your ex-spouse in hopes of turning over a new leaf, but when it comes to high-conflict personalities this is rarely a good idea. Avoid getting into conversations with your spouse about your relationship or personal feelings. These discussions rarely end well and are far more likely to end with a big fight.
Also, never apologize to your spouse, especially in writing. This could be used as an admission of guilt, legally speaking, and could be used against you in court.
In all likelihood, the contention between you and your high-conflict spouse will never be fully resolved. As you continue through the divorce process, try to be realistic about what you expect to come from your divorce emotionally, financially, and legally. Getting a divorce isn’t about “winning” or “losing,” though some people may see it that way. Accept that you will likely not get everything you want from this divorce and make a list of your priorities — a list of realistic goals for you and your divorce attorney to focus on achieving. If you have children, prioritize their needs and move forward from there.
High-conflict personalities tend to be destructive in a variety of ways. Whether your spouse is simply argumentative, emotionally aggressive, or physically dangerous, do whatever is necessary to protect yourself and your family. If your spouse is physically dangerous, call the police if you feel threatened and talk to your attorney about a restraining order.
For any other issue, open new, protected bank accounts to prevent your spouse from harming you in a financial way. Also, consider changing the locks in your home and staying off social media. The less information you give your spouse the less he or she will have to get upset about or try use against you, so be private about your affairs and leave communication to your attorney.
Protecting Your Children
If your spouse is no danger to your children, do your best not to harm their relationship with one another. Remember, your issues with their other parent should not affect them. Badmouthing your spouse in front of children, using children to send messages, and deliberately trying to alienate your spouse from your children are actions that could be used against you in a custody fight. (Learn more on talking to your children about divorce here.)
Your divorce attorney should help you obtain temporary orders from the court regarding child support, a temporary parenting plan, living arrangements, and finances. Temporary orders are legal orders that establish rules that both spouses must abide for the duration of your divorce process. If your spouse does not follow the order, you will have legal recourse.For help with your contentious divorce, contact McKinley Irvin at our Washington office.