How to Protect Children from High Conflict Divorce

For parents, the health and well-being of their children is typically a primary concern during the divorce process. In a high-conflict divorce, these concerns are magnified, and for good reason. If not adequately shielded from the war waging between their parents, children can suffer painful and long-term effects. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to shield your children from your high-conflict divorce.

What is High-Conflict Divorce?

Very few divorces have no conflict. In nearly all cases, the marriage is ending because there is some level of conflict. However, high-conflict divorces take that to the next level. Disagreements turn combative. One or both parties may refuse to compromise, even on matters they don’t care about. Winning or wounding the other spouse becomes almost more important than the specific issues at hand. Everything is a fight.

These divorces usually include a refusal to compromise. There may be unreasonable demands, manipulative behavior, and choices made for the sole purpose of hurting or frustrating the other person. Rather than reaching a reasonable resolution, one or both parties focus on beating their opponent and doing maximum damage along the way.

Even if one spouse is level-headed, reasonable, and willing to compromise, you can still have a high-conflict divorce.

In these divorces, it is almost impossible to shield children entirely from the war waging around them. Children are perceptive and observant. They will know that their parents are not only disagreeing but are doing so aggressively and acting as adversaries. However, there are some steps you can take to protect your children from high-conflict divorce.

Avoidance

The best way to shield your children from a high-conflict divorce is not to have one. Do your part to remain reasonable and find compromises. If you can’t communicate with your ex without it devolving into angry chaos, use your divorce attorney as a go-between. Avoid behaviors that you know trigger your ex.

This approach may help reduce conflict. However, it may not eliminate it. If your ex is determined to be difficult, emotionally manipulative, or focused on blame rather than resolution, you won’t be able to prevent all of the excessive conflict.

Avoiding a high-conflict divorce is the best way to shield your children. However, the decision isn’t entirely in your hands. If, despite your best efforts to be calm and reasonable, your divorce ends up in an ugly place, there are other steps you can take to protect your children.

Don’t Try to Win

There is no winner in divorce. With a great family and divorce lawyer, you may triumph on the issues most important to you. But no one wins or loses in a divorce.

Try to resist the urge to frame things as winning or losing. If your mindset is that of wins and losses, you will work to beat your opponent. Instead, focus on compromise. Try to frame disagreements as issues everyone is working on to find solutions. What concessions can you make on important issues that bring your ex closer to an agreement without giving up the matters that are most critical to you? Perhaps you let them keep a sentimental piece of art if they agree to give you custody of the family dog. Anything can become part of a compromise if it moves you closer to a final settlement.

Meet your ex partway. Consider what you can agree to show you are trying to be reasonable while not sacrificing your key concerns.

This mindset should continue after the divorce is final. If your child wants to spend their birthday with you instead of your ex, this isn’t a win for the co-parent or a loss for you. If you agree to split a cost not required by your settlement, this is not a loss for you and a win for them. These are all compromises made for the good of your children. They are the winners when their parents can set aside conflict.

Don’t Vye for Your Children’s Loyalty

Using your child in the divorce is one of the most damaging things you can do. Seeing your children love and adore an ex who has deeply wounded or betrayed you can be difficult. It’s natural to want them to take your side or see their other parent as you see them. However, you should resist that urge.

Your children should feel safe loving both of their parents. Your disputes and points of contention with your ex are between the two of you. Leave your children out of it. They should never feel guilty for wanting to talk to or spend time with the other parent.

Caught between warring parents during and after the divorce is a painful, confusing, scary place for children to be. Don’t put them there. If they mention the other parent, resist the urge to make negative comments. If they are excited about an upcoming weekend with your ex, encourage that excitement. Don’t make them feel guilty for loving or talking about their parent.

Walk Away

When conversations get heated, remove yourself before they can escalate further. This approach is especially critical when your children are present. It’s healthy to say, “This isn’t getting anywhere; we can discuss it more at another time,” or “I’m not having this conversation right now.”

First, this prevents the argument from getting even more heated. Second, it prevents your children from having to witness a nasty fight. Third, it models for your children a healthy way of setting boundaries and de-escalating a fight.

Focus on Security and Stability

All divorces feel scary for children. Their lives are changing. They aren’t sure what to expect. That brings up complicated emotions. Channel your efforts away from fighting with your ex and toward reassuring your children.

Counter the upheaval of divorce with stability. Create and stick to predictable patterns. It can help your children feel reassured and grounded. Create emotional security by giving them a safe space to discuss their feelings when they are ready.

Reduce In-Person Communication

If you and your ex can’t be in the same room without fighting, don’t be in the same room. While shared custody may make it impossible to avoid all contact, you can minimize interactions. If phone communication devolves into screaming, blaming, and name-calling, stick with emails and texts.

Keep your tone neutral. Focus on briefly conveying information. Don’t take the bait if your ex steers the conversation toward blame or fighting. If necessary, share information through an intermediary or family practice attorney.

Rely On Your Team

When you are going through or healing from a high-conflict divorce, you need support. Don’t try to tackle this alone. Rely on divorce attorney advice to help you manage the process. Rally your support system, and involve mental health resources if you need outside resources. With all these people on your team, you can focus on disengaging from the fighting. Instead, you can work toward the best outcome for you and your children. That’s a scenario where everyone wins.

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