What exactly is a high conflict divorce? Some people describe it as a battle, a stressful time filled with anger, resentment and hate, a time when kids are put in the middle and see the ugliness of their parents fighting, both in court and at home.
Believe it or not, only about 8-15% of divorce cases are considered high conflict. Many cases start out as high conflict cases and as time goes on, the couple are able to reach agreements with the help of the attorneys or a divorce mediator.
A high conflict divorce is sometimes unavoidable, especially if you are going through a divorce with a high conflict person, in general, and/or a narcissist. But even if the divorce is high conflict, that doesn’t mean the outcome will be awful. Of course it is always better if a couple can mediate or negotiate their divorce and come to agreements without a trial, but like I said, sometimes it just isn’t possible.
In my over 28 years of practicing divorce law, I have represented many individuals who were in a high conflict divorce, and I have seen many walk away feeling great about the outcome and the judge’s ruling on their marital settlement agreement, and parenting agreement.
So, if you are involved in a high conflict divorce, and you feel there is no way mediation or negotiation are options, I have some tips in making the process less stressful, and getting you a better economic and emotional divorce outcome.
Here are 19 tips for those going through a high conflict divorce:
1. Make sure you are seeing a therapist and/or divorce coach.
Getting the emotional support during your divorce is key in staying healthy, being a good parent, and making good decisions versus those that might hurt your case.
2. Always keep children in mind before doing or saying anything you might regret.
It’s not always easy when you feel so much anger and unfairness, but try to remember that what you do now, and how you act in front of your children—in both good and bad ways, will affect them for the rest of their lives.
3. Don’t put anything in writing (to anyone) that your ex might be able to get a hold of.
People who get emotional and decide to write about how they feel could be hurting their case. Putting things in writing can be used against you in court. So, while it’s great to write things down to get them off your chest, the key is to keep it confidential.
4. Protect your electronic information.
People in a high conflict divorce might “steal” information from you to help their case. Consider sweeping all of your devices. Also, change your passwords for things like: Quicken, financial accounts, email, texts, etc. Remember that your life has to be private right now. It might seem sad, but it’s in your best interest to have this mindset.
5. Any email you send, assume the judge will read.
Read each one carefully before hitting “send.”
6. Try to set aside some money in your own name.
Many people in a high conflict divorce suddenly cut off their spouse out of anger. Make sure you have a nest egg—money set aside for bills, fees, and daily living, should your ex decide to try to hurt you in this way.
7. Get a credit card or credit cards in your own name if you don’t already have them and open a bank account in your name.
It’s a good time to start becoming financially independent for several reasons, including to establish good credit.
8. Gather as much financial information as possible and maintain it during the course of the case as you receive monthly statements for your accounts.
A spouse might try to hide these documents and it can make it more difficult and expensive to gather the rewards.
9. Make sure unique family heirlooms, jewelry, artwork is in a safe place.
People in a high conflict divorce are so hurt and angry that they might “steal” items they know mean a lot to you. If they “disappear,” it is hard to find them.
10. Make sure you have an attorney you trust.
It is so important that you trust, respect, and like your attorney, and that you feel comfortable talking to him or her. If you have doubts, don’t be afraid to address them with your attorney, and if you don’t like the reaction you get, and if you continue to doubt your attorney, don’t hesitate to interview other attorneys and make a change. Your attorney is your advocate and means everything in a high conflict case.
11. Understand how your case will be staffed.
Know what professionals you need in your divorce. Obviously you need a divorce attorney, but you also might need consultants, such as a therapist for yourself and/or your kids, a financial advisor, a real estate agent who specializes in divorce, a mortgage banker, a divorce mediator, an accountant and possibly more.
You may also need expert witnesses to give an opinion of value of some of your marital assets, such as real estate, complicated private equity and other investments that do not have a determined market value or a closely held business. You may also need a forensic accountant to trace certain assets over time or a lifestyle expert to figure out how much you, your spouse and your kids need on a monthly basis. There are also mental health professionals who will give an opinion as to custody and parenting time.
12. Make sure there are court orders entered to protect you during the pendency of the litigation.
These can include temporary child support, temporary custody and parenting time, attorney fees and expert fees. This is a discussion to have with your attorney at the very beginning of your divorce.
13. Suggest weekly/monthly meetings with your legal team so you know what’s going on and have a cost/benefit analysis discussion when developing the strategy.
Work with your attorney to stay informed on what is going on. You are the client and should be actively involved in the strategy. You should also be updated on a regular basis. Set goals at the beginning and revisit as time goes on and situations change.
14. Read your billing statements as you receive them.
Make sure you know what you are being billed for. High conflict divorce is expensive, so you should know specifically what you are being charged for, and discuss anything you might not understand about your bill.
15. Consult with a financial planner.
This is a crucial part of a high conflict divorce, or any divorce for that matter. Your financial planner can help you plan for now and for your future. Having information about your finances will empower you to make good decisions during and after divorce.
16. Try to maintain the status quo that was established before the divorce when spending money.
In other words, the goal is for you to live the same lifestyle you did before your divorce. Oftentimes in a high conflict divorce, a spouse tries to make the other person feel guilty about not working, or spending money. A lot of times, this is a form of bullying that stems from anger and resentment.
17. Don’t agree to anything with your spouse unless you discuss the implications with your lawyer.
In a high conflict divorce, there is usually no negotiating with a spouse, and if there is, there might be some kind of ulterior motive. Run everything by your attorney before agreeing to anything.
18. Keep a journal as it relates to issues that arise with the children.
The journal could be very important in court. For example, if your ex comes to get the children and he/she is intoxicated. Write it down. If your ex behaves in any way in front of the children that you feel is endangering or hurting them emotionally, write it down. If your ex calls you at odd times or is harassing you, write it down.
19. Take care of your physical health.
Exercising, eating healthy foods, and socializing are great ways to stay physically healthy during your high conflict divorce. Drinking heavily, not sleeping, or doing drugs can be very harmful. The better you feel physically, the better you will perform during the divorce—as a parent, at work, and in court.
In conclusion, a high conflict divorce seems daunting, but with the right divorce professionals (including your divorce attorney), patience, faith and a positive attitude, you will get through it. Just keep your eye on your life after divorce, because in the end, that’s what is most important.
Daniel R. Stefani is a Divorce Attorney and the co-Founder of the Chicago based law firm, Katz & Stefani. He has practiced exclusively in the area of matrimonial for his entire career which spans almost three decades.
Dan is recognized nationally for his innovation in both litigation and settlement of financial issues pertaining to matrimonial law, particularly those that require detailed analyses of complex transactions and business valuations. His work on behalf of mainly high net worth clients, as well as spouses of high net worth individuals, involves valuations of closely held corporations, partnerships and other entities, child custody and child support issues, as well as paternity and domestic violence.
Dan has been selected every year for inclusion in U.S. News & World Report’s prestigious publication, “Best Lawyers in America,” and was named by Chicago Magazine as a “Top Family Law Practitioner.” He was selected by the Leading Lawyers Network and Super Lawyers Network as a top family law practitioner in Illinois. U.S. News’ “Best Law Firms” has also continually ranked Katz & Stefani, LLC as a Tier One firm, the highest ranking awarded.
Like this article? Check out, “Want to Minimize Attorney’s Fees? Read this.”