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How Should You Deal with a High Conflict Person if you Anticipate a Divorce or Other Child Custody Case?

Child sad because of arguing parents

Often, clients will consult with our office several times and many months in advance of actually moving forward with a case. Sometimes, they need an understanding of what they are likely to face in the case and the process or an analysis of what their chances are of being successful if they seek a modification. However, I also spend significant time in consultations trying to help clients prepare their case for anticipated litigation.

The following is the advice that I give them to prepare for litigation down the road:

  1. Document, document, document. Keep detailed, accurate information to share with what occurs. Make it non-emotional and not subjective. Just list out the facts, the place, the date and time and the specific things that occurred. No need to include your interpretation or feelings, just the facts! This information is irreplaceable down the road as you consult with professionals and cannot be replicated as you will not have the level of detail and memory that is created by making entries as situations occur. Often days, weeks, months or even years later- when litigation is necessary, you will not be able to put together nearly as much information and detail as if you start documenting now!
  1. Be strategic, not reactive. For this reason, many clients seek out a consultation or even multiple consultations with our office before litigation becomes necessary. When you react, you will often say things out of frustration or anger. Avoid getting yourself in a place where you are communicating in a reactive way. If you feel like you fall into this trap, come up with a strategic plan to take a break before responding to communication or engage a professional to assist you with strategic communication.
  1. Be intention about choosing your battles. When you are dealing with a difficult co-parent, they may try to make everything a battle. You may begin to feel that everything is unfair and you are conceding to everything they want or ask for. Again, be intentional about strategic actions that are based on what your children need for a successful outcome, not allowing yourself to react to anger or frustration. If you need help in making wise decisions about what battles are worth fighting, get a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney on your team to help you make the best decisions in choosing the right battles to fight for your children.
  1. Avoid making yourself a target. When you anticipate litigation on the horizon, you are often a target for the other party and his or her attorney to scrutinize everything you say or do. They are hopeful to get you angry or frustrated and have you slip up so they can hold that against you. Make sure you minimize things you are posting on the internet or social medial and only post things that would be appropriate for a judge in your case to see.
  1. Make sure you are honest. Be very honest with the opposing party so you don’t get caught in lies that he or she uses to try to diminish your credibility in other more important areas. When you meet with a family law attorney, make sure you are honest with him or her. We all have skeletons in our closets, share yours proactively so your lawyer can give you the best possible advice about your situation.
  1. High conflict people often engage in “blaming behavior.” They try to create a false reality where you are the cause of the problems. Keep in mind that they are engaged in this behavior and don’t allow yourself to fall victim to it. When they begin to make extreme statements such as using “never” or “always”, give yourself a reality check and don’t join the circus that they are trying to invite you to.
  1. When needed, respond quickly. While some things don’t require a response, if a high conflict person is making false statements or engaged in extreme behavior, respond and condemn those actions quickly. If you do not make clear your disagreement, the high conflict person might perceive a lack of response as your approval. Again, this is another crucial area where having an experienced family law attorney is so valuable as they can give you important advice about when responses are needed versus when you should not engage in the games that the other high conflict person is playing.
  1. Work hard to manage your own emotions. Dealing with a high conflict person can be exhausting and depleting. It is easy to feel increased emotional intensity in dealing with such a person. Even if the other person begins yelling or raising their voice or being theatrical, maintain a calm voice and demeanor. If the other person is being passive aggressive, angry or difficult, you do not need to participate and return the behavior.
  1. Build your patience and flexibility. If you will practice showing patience and flexibility (when appropriate depending on the issue), you will learn not to engage and participate in every dramatic circumstance that the high conflict opposing party may try to create.
  1. Finally, give clear expectations and deadlines. In dealing with a high conflict person, when you do draw a line in the sand, be definitive and assertive. Of course, you will be aided in this effort if you have an attorney on your team who can help you resort to legal action or taking other steps when/if needed.

If you believe that a divorce or other family law matter may be in your future, the best thing you can do to deal with a high conflict person is be proactive in developing a plan.

Our firm is able to help in difficult situations with high conflict people, people dealing with mental illness, addictions or other difficult issues.

Call our office today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation with our office.