Going through a high-conflict divorce is difficult enough, but when children are involved, the situation can be even more complicated and draining. All too often, divorcing parents are unable to agree on what is best for their kids, leading to long, drawn-out disputes.
If you are in this situation, you are probably feeling overwhelmed. Fortunately, there is hope. Many available resources can help guide you during this rocky time.
In this article, we share practical tips on managing an acrimonious divorce involving kids, and we discuss ways of keeping communication constructive whenever possible.
The Impact of a High-Conflict Divorce on Children
Parents often forget that their emotional states can directly impact their children, even when the kids are very young. If you are in a contentious divorce, your children may experience feelings of intense stress, fear, and sadness. This is especially true if they are witnessing their parents argue, yell, and fight.
In many cases, children feel caught in the middle. They often feel the need to take the role of the supporter, helping both parents. This can teach them to neglect their own emotional state, when it is much healthier for them to recognize and process their feelings.
The effects of an ugly divorce can linger long after the divorce is finalized. Studies show that children who experience high-conflict divorces are at a greater risk for emotional and behavioral problems, difficulty forming relationships, and a variety of other negative outcomes.
Parents must do everything in their power to minimize conflict and prioritize their child's well-being throughout the divorce process.
Recognizing the Early Signs of High-Conflict Divorce
Contentious divorces are marked by ongoing:
Warring partners often feel these effects long after the divorce is finalized.
Here are some of the early warning signs that you are headed for a high-conflict divorce. These can apply to just one or both partners.
- Persistent arguments
- Difficulty communicating
- Unwillingness to compromise
- Either or both partners are focused on power and control
If you see any of these situations arising, try to stamp them out as quickly as possible, especially if there are children in the family. Try to communicate with your spouse, and let them know that you want the divorce to remain amicable for the kids’ sake.
Seek professional help if necessary. This includes both mental health workers and legal professionals. Let them know what your goals are, and do your best to work together toward an agreeable outcome.
Developing Effective Communication Strategies with Your Former Spouse
Putting your differences aside and focusing on what is best for your children can be challenging, but there are methods you can use to make things smoother.
- Start by setting clear expectations and boundaries for communication. For example, you can limit all interactions strictly to co-parenting matters.
- Establish a regular communication schedule, whether it be through phone calls, emails, or texting.
- Use "I" statements instead of accusations. Phrases like, “I need . . .” or, “It would be helpful if I could have . . .” set a better tone for a conversation. Language like, “You always do . . .” or, “Why can’t you . . .” puts the listener on the defensive, and this leads to a breakdown in communication.
- Remain respectful and considerate throughout all interactions, and always keep the children’s well-being at the forefront of any communication.
Alternate Forms of Dispute Resolution
In any legal disagreement, there are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options. They can keep matters out of a courtroom and give you some power over outcomes.
Mediation, for instance, involves a neutral third party. This mediator facilitates communication between parties, helping them reach a resolution together.
In many family law scenarios, collaborative law is another viable option. It involves parties working with lawyers trained to find creative, mutually beneficial solutions. Even though lawyers are involved, everyone is working together, and no one is trying to “win.”
Both methods can be less expensive, less stressful, and more efficient than courtroom litigation.
Getting Help from a Mental Health Professional
These professionals are equipped to help both the individual and the family unit. They can help both your and your spouse address your mental health concerns, and they can guide families toward more positive communication and better relationships.
By working with a specialist, family members can gain a better understanding of each other's needs, even when they are splitting apart. You can also develop strategies for resolving conflicts in a healthy, productive way.
Resources for Co-Parents in a High-Conflict Divorce
As we’ve already mentioned, you can explore various ADR options to help work out your differences and come to an agreement.
There are also support groups and counseling services that specialize in high-conflict divorce. They can help parents navigate the emotional and logistical challenges.
Many online resources offer free or low-cost tools to help parents create comprehensive parenting plans. These plans outline everything from visitation schedules to financial arrangements.
The Law Offices of Mark R. Hinshaw, PLC wants to help make your divorce as smooth as possible. For a free consultation, call our team at (515) 200-7571 or contact us online.