Find Mediators Near You:

Navigating a High Conflict Divorce

Divorces often start from a place of conflict or stress, but some divorces are more contentious than others. 

A number of circumstances factor into a high-conflict divorce, and each one can be stressful for both you and your family. From high-conflict personalities to divisive child custody agreements, each family will have different needs to address to build the foundation for a better future.

Create Effective Boundaries With Your Former Partner

Emotions can run high throughout the divorce process. It’s important to establish boundaries to help manage your unique circumstances. Effective boundaries can foster both practical routines and grounded conversations.

When it comes to setting boundaries that work for you, the most important thing is to ask for what you want and follow through with an actionable system to enforce them. Consider the following steps:

  1. Define your goal in positive terms. Figure out what you need, and frame it in a positive statement based on your wants, rather than a negative statement stemming from your worries.
    1. Positive: “I want to know ahead of time when my ex plans on coming to the house.” 
    2. Negative: “I don’t want my ex to visit unannounced.”
  2. Clearly articulate your boundaries. Explain what you want and why, so that each person understands the purpose behind the boundary, and why it’s important to your family.
  3. Discuss consequences. If a boundary is ignored, it’s time to talk about the next steps and be clear about the consequences of ignoring the boundary.
  4. Focus on your needs. While boundaries can be helpful, you ultimately can’t control your former partner’s behavior—but you do have control over your decisions and actions. Reduce any decision or action that relies on their cooperation or good behavior.
  5. Follow through. If your boundaries are still not respected, you HAVE to follow through on the consequences.

It’s normal to feel anxious or angry during a contentious divorce, but boundaries set conflict-reducing expectations between you and your former partner.

Get Professional Support

Going through a high-conflict divorce is emotionally taxing. 

Self-care is a vital part of ensuring that you preserve your well-being, but it’s enormously valuable to seek professional support to help you through this time in your life. A therapist or counselor can provide meaningful insight and strategies to help you cope and, ultimately, start planning for your future. If you have children, it may be helpful to seek out help from a child therapist to make sure they have the tools they need to thrive. 

Consider Whether Parallel Parenting is a Viable Alternative to Co-Parenting For Your Family

Co-parenting is when both parents assume joint responsibility for their children’s health, welfare, and education. While co-parenting is a great option, it can be a difficult adjustment even in a relatively amicable divorce.

In a high-conflict divorce, parallel parenting may be a solution for your child’s welfare. Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which parents limit direct contact with each other, which may be necessary if they cannot respectfully communicate with each other. 

While parallel parenting is an option, it should be weighed carefully. If you’re considering parallel parenting as a strategy for coping with a high-conflict divorce, it’s crucial that any decision is made in collaboration with your legal team and any medical or mental health providers for your child to keep their best interest at the center of the matter. 

The goal of parallel parenting is to minimize conflict through the most civil and stable arrangement possible. This would mean that while parents may share joint decision-making on schooling or their child’s extracurricular activities, day-to-day care and logistics decisions would be made independently for both parties, and communication is limited to specific circumstances. 

Find Out if Mediation or Litigation is a Good Fit For Your Situation

Every divorce is different, and even in a high-conflict divorce, there are both pros and cons to either mediation or litigation. 

With litigation, most if not all of the steps of the divorce process go through the court. This makes the process more inherently contentious, and it can be time-consuming, stressful, and costly. However, litigation does provide a few advantages:

  • Court intervention. If one party is uncooperative with the divorce process, then judges have the power to enter sanctions or award fees.
  • Subpoena power. If one party is concealing assets or employment information, litigation can compel financial statements or employment records disclosure. 

On the other hand, mediation is often less confrontational and adversarial than litigation. Mediation tends to be faster and less expensive, and provides its own advantages:

  • You focus on the bigger picture. Neither party can move forward unless they reach an agreement, so parties tend to tackle larger concerns more efficiently. 
  • Mediation is more private. Because litigation goes through the courts, a litigated divorce becomes part of the public record.
  • Mediation is individualized. There’s more flexibility to reach a customized agreement addressing both parties’ concerns and the unique needs of each family. 
  • It may be easier on your children. It allows parents to build the solution that works best for their family, rather than hoping that the courts make the right choice for them.

As you navigate divorce, keep in mind that you can always move from mediation to litigation and vice versa. The New Jersey court system builds multiple options for mediation and settlement-oriented discussion into the litigation process, so choosing to litigate doesn’t mean you’ve given up on reaching agreements with the other side.

Going through a contentious divorce can be stressful, but you shouldn’t need to navigate the process alone. That’s why it’s so important to work with a legal team that understands your needs. You’ll want to work with a legal team that will help minimize your stress not increase it. This is why you’ll want to try to find a legal team that will focus on strategy and goal-oriented legal advice that is tailored to your unique circumstances and needs in order to find the right path forward for all parties involved.


Sarah Jacobs

Sarah Jacobs, Co-Founder of Jacobs Berger, is dedicated to protecting the interests of clients in family law proceedings. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified as a Family Law Mediator, she possesses nearly 20 years of experience practicing law throughout the State… MORE

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


IBA-VIAC CDRC Vienna 2017 – Where Mediation and Negotiation Cross Borders

IBA-VIAC CDRC Vienna 2017 - where mediation and negotiation crosses borders Following two successful editions of the IBA-VIAC Consensual Dispute Resolution Competition in Vienna, Dispute Resolution literally went international again...

By Gracious Timothy, Jenny Driver, Mirella Kreder

Congregational Conflict Resolution: The Pastor’s Role

I am speaking to you, who are leaders of congregations. In my years of experience as an Elder, I have learned that addressing conflict is one of the most difficult...

By Lester L. Adams

Mediation May Hinge on a Clear Understanding of What’s on the Table

– and a Personal Story or Two Successful mediation isn’t always rooted in the confidential mediation statement, or the back and forth during opening statements, or the many routine processes...

By Charles Schneider