Strategies for Divorcing a High Conflict Spouse Such as a Narcissist or Other Personality Disorder

Defining High Conflict Personality

High conflict personality is defined as someone with the trademark characteristics of viewing the world in the extreme, only seeing the black and white of a situation, or always taking all or nothing approach. This comes out to “If I do not win, I lose.” They act in a way that makes others around them feel as though they are always on the defensive and have to justify every decision that they make. And, their behavior aligns with their world view of all or nothing and black or white. They could be pleasant and easy to work with one time and hostile the next. It is a personality type recognized by therapists and psychologists.

Common Traits Associated with High Conflict Spouses

The common traits associated with high conflict spouses would be seeing situations in the world in black and white, always taking an extreme position, swinging between all positive or negative, and being easy to get along with one day and then the exact opposite the next day.

Influencing a Divorce or Other Separation Agreement

These traits influence a divorce or other kinds of separation agreements, because they are extreme.  Having extreme viewpoints and behaviors, showing more hostility or aggression, and constantly putting someone on the defensive could lead to a difficult divorce process, including angry and volatile emails and other forms of communication, delay tactics, or underhanded strategies that could cause delays and disruptions.

The Challenge of a Divorce Involving a High Conflict Personality

A divorce involving a high conflict personality could be more challenging than other divorces, because of the person’s inability to compromise or ever see the middle ground. If they do not get their way, they see that as a loss and a lot of times are not able to deal with losing.


Children could increase the difficulty of this type of divorce case. Having children involved could make the divorces even more high conflict because the refusal to communicate could be detrimental to a child’s well-being. As an example, perhaps both parents take the child to get vaccines but do not tell the other, so the child is vaccinated twice. Putting aside their viewpoints on vaccinating children, getting double vaccinated would not be an ideal situation. A high conflict personality could also use the child against the other parents. For example, they would constantly accuse them of acting against the child’s interests as a way to get them to engage in negative and hostile communications.

Anticipating Issues

An experienced family lawyer could anticipate the issues that could arise with a high conflict spouse during a divorce because they deal with these types of personalities and cases all the time. They know how to effectively communicate with these people using the BIFF method, which stands for a brief, informative, friendly, and firm. They could also educate so that they could use this method too. This would save them lots of time and stress both during the divorce process and the remainder of their time co-parenting any children.

The Purpose of a Parenting Plan

A parenting plan is a plan that outlines key components related to raising children post-divorce, including parenting time schedules, who makes what decisions, communication standards and practices, transportation arrangements, and various other issues surrounding the children. It is a required filing for any case involving children.

Common Components for Plans Involving a High Conflict Personality

The common components that should be included in a parenting plan involved a high conflict personality have to be a fine balance between being detailed enough to make requirements and expectations clear, but not so detailed that the high conflict person continually threatens or even files contempt actions for not following the details perfectly. Some common tools that could be included in parenting plans would be communication programs such as Family Wizard, which require monthly child update reports between the parents, or a Google calendar or other shared calendar.

Effects on Co-Parenting

Co-parenting could be affected with a high conflict personality because it could be much more difficult. This is where this method of communication is so important. They would want to be brief, state only what is relevant, do not get dragged into an emotional debate, be informative, provide the necessary information regarding the issue or child, and be friendly as they would get much further by simply being friendly and nice, even in the face of hostility and aggression. Also, they have to be firm, making it clear that they would not continue to engage in endless emotional and hostile debates.

Minimizing Contact with a High Conflict Personality

It is essential to minimize contact with a high contact personality. The reason is that it saves themselves endless frustration and stress. A high conflict personality thrives on their discomfort and unease, so it is best to just not give that to them.

The most effective strategy to be able to do this would be the BIFF method of communication, which stands for brief, informative friendly, and firm.


Minimized contact could become difficult with children because they have to keep the other parent informed about a child’s well-being and growth. This is when tools such as Family Wizard could be invaluable. As an example, Family Wizard is an online account that includes messaging, payments, and a shared calendar that both parents have full access to. They could also provide their attorney with access so that they could monitor activity on the account.

Creating Boundaries

Other ways to create boundaries or structures surrounding a divorce or separation from a high conflict personality include telling the high conflict parent that they do not wish to receive any communication from them unless it is related to the children, using a tool such as Family Wizard, sticking to the best method of communicating, and not engaging in their personal or emotional attacks.

An experienced family lawyer could create boundaries between separating parties by helping to teach them the best communication standards and practice as well as how to set boundaries so that they are not subject to continued emotional turmoil from the other parents. Family lawyers could also communicate for them during the progression of the case and teach them lifelong communication skills for co-parenting.

The Role of a Therapist

A therapist could be useful in dealing with a high conflict spouse. They could teach their own communication methods. They could also help them find outlets for all of the emotional frustration that comes with dealing with a high conflict spouse.


Other outlets or resources that an experienced family lawyer could access or know to utilize with the divorce involving high conflict personality include a network of therapists, including child therapists, communication resources and trainings, and multiple divorce and other support groups to connect them with so that they could meet and chat with other people dealing with the same issues.

Common Misconceptions about Divorcing a High Conflict Spouse

Common misconceptions that individuals may have with divorcing high conflict spouse include that it is easy to feel like they have to respond and defend every statement they make against them, especially the ones that are not true. A lot of the feeling is because just ignoring it would look to a judge like they are admitting to what is being claimed or that they are a bad parent, but the reverse could be true. Some judges are more negative if they get caught up in endless arguments that have no relevance to the case or the child.

Mistakes to Avoid

Common mistakes an experienced family law attorney could help prevent or mitigate is crossing that line of knowing when to respond and how and knowing when to simply ignore the allegations. They could also teach them how to avoid having the children in the middle of the disagreement and how to avoid using them as a weapon or pawn against the other parent by the high conflict spouse.

Preparing for Separation

Ways an individual could prepare for a divorce or separation with a high conflict personality include to arm themselves with a strong and experienced family law attorney as well as a therapist. They have a team behind them who they could turn to any time during the process.

The resources that individuals have to prepare or educate themselves on ways to deal with a high conflict divorce include an experienced family law attorney, which is essential. They also want to begin seeing a family therapist and get their child seeing a therapist. They want to research the BIFF method of communication and begin implementing it.

When to Call an Attorney

The best time a person should contact an experienced family lawyer with a divorce involving a high conflict personality is as soon as possible so that they could begin tailoring a strategy for them from the beginning. Ideally, they would arm themselves with an attorney prior to even filing and serving the action. If their spouse serves them first, they want to contact the attorney as soon as possible after receiving the paperwork. There are important deadlines that play in both instances, so they should not wait to call an attorney.

What to Know About Divorcing a High Conflict Spouse

The first thing a person should know about the worst thing of a high conflict personality is how to effectively communicate both with that person directly and with third parties about any children involved. They want to learn the BIFF method, which stands for brief, informative, friendly, and firm. The second would they should know is how to pick their battles. Not everything they bring up needs to be responded to. An attorney could help them make these determinations. The third thing is if there are children involved, maintain focus on the children and their best interests. An attorney and therapist working together could be invaluable in this scenario.

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