In today’s society, divorce has become a common experience for many families. In the vast majority of cases, children are negatively impacted as a result.
While there is no way to take back your past mistakes or ensure that those around you treat you the way you want to be treated from now on, there are steps that can be taken to lessen the impact of the situation, especially how to avoid a high-conflict divorce.
What Is High-conflict Divorce?
When couples are having a high-conflict divorce, the relationship between ex-spouses is characterized by an ongoing conflict that often includes verbal abuse, anger, and legal fights.
The couple might stay together to avoid splitting up or selling the family home. They might continue to argue over visitation rights for children, money, and other issues even after the divorce is final.
Children are likely to suffer long-term negative effects of high-conflict divorce if their parents constantly fight, threaten, or intimidate each other and cannot cooperate for the children’s sake. Studies show that children in high-conflict homes tend to have problems with school performance, social relationships, emotional adjustment, and physical health.
Since the 1980s, there has been a marked increase in high-conflict divorce among young couples with children. Studies indicate that the rise in high-conflict divorce can be attributed to two primary factors:
1. High Unemployment Among Men
Declining financial prospects among men are one of the main causes of high-conflict divorce. In one survey, women initiated about 33 percent of these divorces. The study further reveals that women usually launch divorce proceedings because their husbands’ chronic unemployment is causing a lack of income and financial stress.
2. Increase in Domestic Violence
Another cause of high-conflict divorce is the increase in domestic violence, particularly among younger couples. On average, around 20 people become victims of domestic abuse by their partner every minute, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence. The incident rate is one in three for women compared to one in four for men.
What Can Parents Do to Avoid a High-conflict Divorce?
Divorce is messy, but parents can do something to avoid it from escalating:
1. Get Help from a Lawyer
Parents can seek help from a divorce attorney who understands that both parents have the children’s best interests in mind. Lawyers can offer advice on mediation, a process in which parents are encouraged to communicate, cooperate, and reach an agreement without going through the long, expensive court process.
Attorneys can also help couples initiate and guide collaborative divorce, where both parties hire attorneys who work together toward a settlement they agree upon outside the court.
Lastly, attorneys can act as a representative, so couples don’t have to meet face-to-face at all times. This helps to reduce the risk of aggressive behavior and potential conflicts.
2. Reduce Conflict Through Communication
Parents can avoid high-conflict divorce by learning how to communicate effectively. This means:
- Staying calm
- Using ‘I’ statements
- Avoiding sarcasm or insults
- Sticking to the issue at hand without involving children in their problems or arguments
- Keeping their emotions in check during the divorce process, so they can avoid angry outbursts and aggressive behavior that reflect badly on their children
3. Think of Your Child’s Best Interests
Many parents find themselves caught up in the midst of high-conflict divorce cases simply because they do not think about their children’s interests and well-being. When having disagreements, parents must put aside their anger and focus on the best interest of their children.
Usually, a high-conflict couple tends to argue before their kids, which can affect them significantly. Parents must learn how to manage disagreements without involving their children.
By avoiding high-conflict divorce, parents can help their children maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives and avoid negative behavior such as anxiety, depression, and aggression.
4. Seek Professional Counseling
Parents who cannot communicate or cooperate should seek professional help from a counselor who has experience in family issues and can help them develop effective parenting skills.
A therapist can help by:
- Identifying and discussing issues and emotions that cause high-conflict behavior in parents
- Assisting parents to avoid using their children as tools for revenge or punishment
- Helping parents focus on the needs of the child, not just themselves
- Providing strategies for effective communication and problem-solving skills
5. Teach Accountability and Responsibility
Parents must take responsibility and acknowledge their contribution to the state of their relationship. They need to make efforts and changes to ensure the safety and well-being of their children and themselves.
Some examples of taking accountability include being open to all possibilities and accepting that sometimes, parents are not perfect. They can also identify what went wrong in their parenting strategy and learn to manage conflict well during disagreements.
By taking accountability and responsibility for past behaviors, parents can learn how to avoid future conflicts.
Divorce can be a very painful process, but parents can do something to make it less messy and high-conflict. Parents should seek help from mediators or divorce lawyers who can facilitate negotiation and provide mediation services. In this way, parents will avoid conflict in the future by communicating effectively with each other about their children’s needs.