If You Can't Convince Them, Confuse Them

Decisions Under Duress: High Conflict People in Family Court

A few years ago, I could not put into words what I had been through in  court.  All I knew was that the trauma and distress that I went through in my abusive marriage was further propagated when I went through the family court system.  When I started my divorce and looking for help, I had no idea what I needed to do and I expected my family lawyer to know.  I needed him to know what my ex-husband had put me through and that my ex would not stop until there was scorched earth. My ex-husband would go to great lengths and expense to make me suffer both publicly and privately. That concept is very foreign for anyone who has not been the target of a person with a personality disorder and someone who truly believes that you are the cause of all of their sufferings. I thought that the court was there to protect me.  I was a good person and I followed the law.  I was wrong.  The court doesn’t get it. There is so much to know when you go through a divorce with a “high conflict person” and, therefore, so much that can go very, very wrong. In 2003, Bill Eddy J.D., MCSW, and Author, used the term “High-Conflict People” in a self-published book called Personalities: Understanding and Resolving Their Costly Disputes.  “High conflict people (HCPs) seem to get stuck in the Anger stage of the grieving process, rather than the Depression stage with its full-blown sadness and sense of vulnerability. They seem to stay angry and preoccupied with others – sometimes holding on to them through years of extended personal and legal conflicts.”1

With HCPs, the issue is not the issue. (1) The high conflict pattern of behavior is the issue including:

  1. Unmanaged Emotions
  2. All or Nothing Thinking
  3. Extreme Behaviors
  4. Blaming Others

High conflict people who have suffered a loss, such as divorce or separation, employ defense mechanisms against the feelings of sadness and emptiness.  Blaming, spreading rumors, false allegations, and, especially, chaos and confusion, are just a few of them. You can imagine how this behavior wreaks havoc in the family court system.  An HCP will thrive on the attention of court and the lawyers and individuals whom they recruit as their negative advocates. Strangely, the stress seems to energize them. If you are going into the court system with one of these individuals, you need a special level of preparedness. I had no clue.

You must get it right the first time. Your future depends on it.  Parenting agreements and divorce decrees need to be iron clad and black and white. No grey.  HCPs push the limits of what these documents contain.  Unfortunately, vague court orders are written and unwitting clients, such as myself, believe that those orders will be upheld.  That a court order is infallible. It’s the law, right?  I learned that is not the case. If a court order is not followed you must go back to court to get it enforced.  That costs you money and time- time away from your children and your career- and pieces of your soul. It is imperative that you find divorce professionals who are willing to listen to your individual needs and make sure that your divorce decree and parenting agreements are very clear and specific.  If you ever feel rushed, that is a sign that you need to slow down and ask questions of your legal team, divorce coach, or other financial professionals. Family court does not move quickly.  Why should you?

Colleen Honquest, Certified Divorce Coach

Divorce Coalition- C0-Founder

1Eddy, William A., and Randi Kreger. Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. New Harbinger Publications, 2011.

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