Mediation and similar alternative dispute resolution techniques help many couples come to an agreement about difficult family law matters like child support or the division of assets and debts. When divorcing couples are willing to work together, they can often accomplish more in less time than if they had gone to court.
In a high conflict relationship, however, both partners take opposing sides on nearly every issue, no matter how small. Something that should have been an inconsequential disagreement can turn into a fight that lasts for days. Both partners refuse to back down from their positions, and the only communication between the two people consists of angry bickering.
While mediation may seem like a good idea for a couple that is still on speaking terms, is mediation effective for high-conflict divorces? Could a couple’s issues be so divisive that mediation would not work?
A study of family law cases by the University of Arkansas found that judges and attorneys consistently identified a divorcing couple as “high conflict” when they exhibited certain traits.
The study showed that individuals involved in high-conflict relationships were found to be at least somewhat self-centered and narcissistic, with a tendency to blame others for their own failings. They were uncomfortable expressing negative emotions in a healthy way, and could not tolerate criticism.
While none of these qualities are flattering, the drama of a divorce often brings out the worst in people. This does not mean that mediation will not work for high-conflict divorces. In fact, the same study noted that children of high-conflict couples were often more traumatized by their parents litigating their divorce in court than they were when their parents settled their case through mediation.
The litigation process pits one person against the other as a matter of course. The study’s authors believed that the “me versus you” mentality of divorce litigation seeped into the divorcing couple’s home life and the way that they interacted with their children. The continued and drawn out fighting in court meant that both former partners had to be constantly “on guard” against the other.
There is no guarantee that people in a high-conflict divorce will be able to quickly and easily resolve all of their issues in a single mediation conference. Often, couples in high-conflict divorces need to return to mediation multiple times after having a chance to think and cool off. While emotions may run high, most people are willing to work together—albeit begrudgingly—for the sake of their children and their own interests.
Working through a divorce with your former partner should not be a high-stress, high-conflict process. The attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law have many techniques at their disposal to help divorcing couples split marital property in an equitable way, and achieve great successes using mediation, collaboration, and other dispute resolution methods.
To schedule a consultation or to learn more about mediation or collaborative law, contact our office today by calling 509-572-3700.