High-Conflict Divorce: How And When To Stand Your Ground
Divorce from a high-conflict personality is grueling. A hostile ex can create so much chaos that you end up reacting, and unwittingly creating more drama. This pattern can continue for years and drain you financially and emotionally. The following tips can help you know what battles to forfeit, and when to stand your ground.
- Don’t try to win the hostile email battle. High-conflict personalities love to pull you into drama by bombarding you with invective-laden, condescending, threatening electronic communication. Your impulse may be to defend yourself, appeal to reason, or respond with equal force. Doing any of these things won’t get your angry ex to back down — they will just invite more chaos, which is exactly what your former partner is trying to accomplish. Your best response is to deflect the hostility by sticking to brief, factual messages.
- Don’t try to win the Favorite Parent battle. If your co-parent is a hyper-competitive Disney Mom or Dad, you may be afraid your kids will reject you in lieu of the “fun parent.” Fear of losing your children’s love may lead you to doubt your parenting instincts or your value in your kids’ lives. But trying to beat your ex at the favorite-parent game will just put your children in the middle — the last thing any parent should do. So stop worrying about what your ex is doing and concentrate on giving your kids what they really need: unconditional love and healthy limits.
- Don’t try to win the asset battle. Yes, you are entitled to your fair share of community property, but spending legal fees haggling over an armoire isn’t worth it. Ask yourself: how will “winning” this item objectively improve my life? Am I spending more cash than it’s worth? Do I really want it, or do I just not want my ex to have it? Bottom line: ignore your ex’s gloating and save your money.
- Don’t fight for more custody time than you’re likely to get. While you may feel your ex’s parenting flaws are glaringly obvious, the judge may disagree. Family court wants children to have equal access to both parents, so listen to your attorney’s counsel. Unless your kids are genuinely unsafe in your co-parent’s care, fighting for more custody time — especially if it’s minimal — may not be worth the financial and psychological expense.
- Hire an appropriate attorney. If your ex is a high-conflict personality, you’re going to need a seasoned advocate. Mediation only works when both people are capable of compromise (high-conflict exes usually aren’t), so you must be prepared for the possibility of litigation. Yes, you should strive to make things as amicable as possible for the sake of the children — but this does not mean you should be a doormat. Find an attorney who understands high-conflict personalities and is confident in the courtroom.
- Stick to the court order. Don’t let your ex play games with child support or turn the visitation schedule topsy-turvy to suit their whims. Backing down when your former spouse bulldozes over your boundaries will not make them nicer or more flexible when you have a request. While they may be quite convincing with their rationalizations about why they should be allowed to violate the court order, they don’t have any legal ground to stand on — and you do! So get used to repeating this mantra: “We need to stick to the court order.”
- Negotiate the best financial settlement you can. Your ex can rant and rave all they want, but you are entitled to your share of community property as well as what the law provides for spousal and child support. Consider consulting with a certified divorce financial analyst to help you navigate complex financial decisions that will impact you and your children for the rest of your lives.
- Fight for custody when necessary. Fighting for an extra few days a year isn’t necessary; advocating to remove your child from an unsafe environment is. If your ex has a poorly managed mental illness or addiction, or lacks sufficient parenting skills to provide your child with the basics, then you must hire the best legal team you can and protect your children.
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