Signs You Might be Facing a High-Conflict Divorce

Signs You Might be Facing a High-Conflict DivorceUnder even the best of circumstances, divorce can be an emotional process. When you enter into divorce proceedings with good faith and intentions, if your spouse does not do the same, you may be dealing with what’s called a “high-conflict divorce.” High-conflict divorce, however, doesn’t have to take you by surprise, if you know what signs or red flags to look for.

The challenges of high-conflict divorce are myriad and often involve contentiousness and acrimony on one or both sides of the marriage. Try to keep aware of some of the following symptoms of a high-conflict person to best prepare yourself in the event of a split or divorce.


Does your spouse have trouble being truthful? This can be a sign that divorce may be problematic and present some difficulty separating fact from fiction. In some cases, a deceitful spouse may attempt to hide assets or manipulate the process in other ways. If you are married to a narcissist, you may also experience a high-conflict divorce. Understanding from the jump that your spouse may be dishonest during divorce proceedings can help you and your divorce attorney go in prepared and ready to investigate their claims.


Does your spouse assign blame to everyone except themselves? This is another sign of high-conflict personality (HCP) disorder, according to the High Conflict Institute. They go on to say that HCP individuals “focus on attacking and blaming someone else and find fault with everything that person does, even though it may be quite minor or non-existent compared to the high-conflict behavior of the HCP.” Blaming the other spouse and absolving themselves of responsibilities allows a high-conflict person to stonewall resolving issues related to the divorce process.

Violating boundaries

If you are already separated, is your ex violating boundaries or even court orders? When your spouse fails to acknowledge your boundaries, you’re likely dealing with a high-conflict person. During a divorce, an HCP can go into overdrive, attempting to dictate and control everything about the process. They might complain about the terms of child visitation or child support. Remember, you can’t change your ex’s behavior or personality, but you can set healthy boundaries. And, if your spouse violates a court order, contact your Columbia family law attorney immediately. That’s what we’re here for.


Undermining behaviors are also common with high-conflict people and divorces. Often, one spouse attempts to turn the child (or children) against the other parent, or mutual friends, family, neighbors – anyone who will listen to them. You may worry that their bad-mouthing may affect some of these relationships permanently, especially with your kids. During your divorce, your best defense is to not engage in these types of behaviors, and allow your children to develop their own critical thinking skills and trust their own perceptions. However, in the event your spouse’s actions turn into parental alienation, the court and your attorney can help ensure parenting time is fair and enforced.

How do I keep conflict to a minimum during divorce?

Although divorce, by its nature, may be rooted in conflict, the process doesn’t have to be. Unless the incident leading to your split involved issues like domestic violence, it may be possible to get through the process with minimal conflict. Take the following into consideration when dealing with a high-conflict person.

  • If you’re planning on telling your spouse you want a divorce, expect them to be surprised or upset. Let them have some time to process the news. Try not to focus on blame or any harm they may have done, but on how both of your actions (or inactions) have contributed to the state of the marriage and why you feel divorce is the best option.
  • During the divorce process, try to remain open while maintaining healthy boundaries. Many couples benefit from mediation in high-conflict scenarios, where a third party can help you work through the process in a more neutral manner. Understand your goals and priorities from the start, and look for opportunities to compromise.
  • After your divorce is finalized, an HCP typically doesn’t stop being high conflict. Ensure you follow your settlement agreement to the letter and that your ex-spouse honors it as well. Failure to adhere to the terms of your agreement – either by you or your ex – can result in legal and financial penalties, or a modification of your order.

The most important thing you can do when dealing with a high-conflict personality during the divorce process is to have a plan, take positive steps to manage the situation, and follow up on those steps after your divorce is final.

This is even more crucial if you and your spouse have children. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, “Children experience extreme stress when one parent hurts the other physically and/or emotionally, when the conflict is about them, or when there is verbal aggression… Poorly managed conflict between parents increases children’s risk of behavior problems, depression, substance abuse and dependence, poor social skills, and poor academic performance.”

If you’re thinking about divorce and have questions about the process, talk to the Columbia family law attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. today. We bring experience, knowledge, and compassion to the table and can talk to you about the best options available to you and your family. Find out how we can help you by scheduling a consultation today. Call 443-812-1435 or reach out to us through our contact form today. In addition to Columbia, we maintain offices in Bethesda, Fulton, and Rockville.