10 Signs Your Divorce is Going to Be High Conflict

Divorce is difficult even under the best of circumstances. However, some divorces become high conflict divorces, in which the challenges become more extensive and even more formidable, requiring highly specific precision legal skills to navigate them. These are the signs that your divorce may be high conflict.

  1. Deceit If your spouse has difficulty being truthful, divorce becomes the perfect storm. Your spouse is likely to lie about nearly everything involved in the process. They will spin a web of deception and fabrication that is so dense that it will take a skilled attorney to cut through them. They will manipulate the truth when it comes to parenting, agreements you've come to together, and what has happened in the past.

    If you have a deceitful spouse, there is also a high probability that they will attempt to hide assets during the divorce. Not only are they likely to be untruthful about what assets they own, but they will take proactive steps to conceal those assets. Everything they say must be questioned and thoroughly investigated to determine veracity throughout the entire process.

  2. Argumentativeness If your spouse has to have the last word on absolutely everything and constantly engages with you to create discord and animosity, they love ongoing conflict. This kind of spouse seeks out reasons to argue and will endlessly engage via text or email, continuing to irritate you into responding so that the conflict will continue. This elevates the divorce process to a combat zone, making it impossible to engage safely with your spouse about any issues or decisions.

  3. Revenge For many couples, their marriage doesn't work, and while they do harbor some feelings of ill will, their ultimate goal is to simply get out of it and move on with their lives. In a high conflict divorce, often at least one of the spouses is seeking revenge. They want to get out of the marriage, but first, they want to do as much damage to the other person as possible, and if that means widespread financial destruction, so be it.

    A spouse whose goal is to achieve revenge is not behaving rationally or fairly and sidelines all of the usual concerns in a divorce, focusing instead on personally, emotionally, and financially damaging the other spouse as much as possible.

  4. Inability to compromise No matter how complex a divorce is, there are probably at least a few things most couples can find that they agree on. They might be small, but most couples do find some points of agreement. In a high conflict divorce, your spouse isn't willing to agree to anything, even the simplest, most reasonable items.

    They want to push everything to a high stakes standoff and refuse to ever compromise on anything. They convince themselves that any compromise results in a loss for them. They also tend to believe that the more difficult they can make the process, the more the other spouse will suffer.  Even if the spouses actually do agree, the difficult spouse is likely to twist things to dissipate any compromise that may have been reached.

  5. Blame There is always sufficient blame to go around in any divorce, but in a high conflict divorce, responsibilities (or lack thereof) become a central issue. Your spouse is hyper-focused on detailing exactly all the missteps you have made in the relationship, as a parent, and even as a person. The process is about condemnation and not about resolving the clear and specific issues that will legally end the marriage. Often, they manufacture situations to allow themselves the opportunity to create even more blame.

  6. Violation of court orders Once your case has commenced, there are likely to be temporary orders put into place by the court, often concerning custody and visitation, but also pertaining to occupancy of homes and dissipation of assets. If your spouse immediately begins violating these orders (even in small ways) and treating them with ultimate disrespect, you can be sure they will continue to treat the entire process with the same level of blatant disregard. Attitude will likely continue after the divorce is finalized, leading to ongoing problems for years, as you try to collect spousal or child support and manage a parenting plan.

  7. Certain mental illnesses Mental illness is very common and is never something to be ashamed of. However, there are certain mental illnesses that can contribute to a high conflict divorce. If your spouse is a narcissist, they act grandiose and require constant admiration. They believe the rules don’t apply to them, so they are likely to create conflict throughout the divorce process.

    A spouse with a borderline personality diagnosis often fears abandonment but is afraid of healthy relationships. This can lead to a dangerous push-pull that results in histrionic behavior and drama. Both of these personality problems are likely to result in a high conflict divorce where normal reason simply does not apply.

  8. Undermining behavior If you have children together, your spouse may work hard to convince the children you don't love them, don't care, don't want them, and are not engaged. This can be done outright, or it can present as subtle attacks. Striving to drive a wedge between you and your children, at a time when they need you more than ever is dangerous behavior that elevates the divorce to a level of high conflict.

    If this rises to the level of parental interference, it can be a reason for a change in custody. Couples in these situations often return to court again and again as their children grow because there is constant conflict about parenting that can never truly be resolved.

  9. Ongoing denigration If your spouse is focused on communicating all the faults they perceive in you to everyone; it's likely your divorce is going to be high conflict. Constant criticism, belittling, and mudslinging is not a healthy reaction to divorce.

    When this behavior occurs in front of your children, business contacts, and social connections, it is particularly damaging. In this situation, it is clear that your spouse is unable to rationally work through the practical matters before the court.

  10. Helicopter parenting Helicopter parents are plagued by anxiety and exhibit obsessive tendencies to control the children's environment, behavior, and interactions. These types of parents are triggered by the divorce process, particularly the thought of the children spending time away from them.

    This leads to overreaction and controlling behaviors, such as constantly calling the children when they are with you, manufacturing complaints about your parenting, and making limitless demands that things be done a certain way. It becomes impossible to co-parent without ongoing legal intervention.

If you spot any of these situations, you are likely headed for a high conflict divorce and need an attorney skilled in managing the complications that result in this situation. 


Dror Bikel

Dror Bikel co-founded Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield, New York’s best known firm for high-conflict matrimonial disputes. A New York Superlawyer℠ and twice recognized (2020 and 2021) New York Divorce Trial Lawyer of the Year, Dror’s reputation as a fearsome advocate in difficult custody and divorce disputes has led him to deliver solid outcomes in some of New York’s most complex family law trials. Attorney Bikel is a frequent commentator on high profile divorces for national and international media outlets. His book The 1% Divorce - When Titans Clash was a 5-category Amazon bestseller.

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