Communication Strategies for a High-Conflict Divorce

Communication Strategies for a High-Conflict Divorce


What is a High-Conflict Divorce?  A High-Conflict Divorce is one hallmarked by constant fighting, where one or both parties fight for the sake of fighting without regard to the effect on the family, particularly the children. There is a lot of overlap between high-conflict divorce and personality disorders or traits such as narcissism, controlling behaviors, and lack of empathy.

When you have children with someone, you will have to communicate with them, no matter how unpleasant it may be. Here are some strategies:

1. Stick to the issue at hand

When you contact the other parent to ask about your son’s baseball game, and they respond with a 10-page email diatribe how none of this would even be happening if you weren’t such a terrible person and terrible parent, do not respond to their attack. A high-conflict person wants you trapped in a power struggle with them and if you engage, they win. Avoid the temptation to defend yourself or reply with your own attacks, and keep the discussion to the baseball game.

2. Get it in Writing

A high-conflict person may often manipulate or twist reality, even to the point of telling outright lies. Whenever possible, communicate in writing to avoid the inevitable “You never told me that,” “I didn’t say that,” or even “You threatened me.” You can use text, email, or a host of the co-parenting apps and websites that are on the market now.

3. Take the High Road

When dealing with the near-constant needling of a high-conflict person, it may be tempting to engage in your own antagonistic behavior because you are tired of feeling bullied, such as bringing your girlfriend to a visitation exchange because you know it will make your ex-wife furious, or refusing to swap visitation days with your ex-husband when his family is visiting simply because you don’t want him to get his way. In the long run, these behaviors only hurt your children. Taken to the extreme, high conflict divorce can even be lethal, like this recent news story from North Alabama.

Co-Parenting Apps & Technology

Co-Parenting Apps & Technology

Technology and apps have come a long way in assisting in co-parenting. Co-parenting apps can provide an essential tool to aid in communication and scheduling. Some also offer secure messaging, which is useful in high-conflict custody situations. 

If you are in a high-conflict custody situation where you have experienced a lot of litigation, it can be very difficult to cobble together emails and text messages etc. to prove who said what when, so the messaging feature would be especially useful to you. Additionally, the app shows what information was shared and when so there is an automatic record. 

Here are a few options:

1. Google Calendar

Cost: FREE

Benefits: Can create a shared calendar specifically for co-parenting issues, while also having a work or personal calendar that only you can see right on your Google calendar app on your phone. Parents can share scheduling information, extra-curricular activities, and doctor’s appointments. You can also create a recurring event for visitation schedules, so you will always know whose weekend it is.

Drawbacks: No messaging, no ability to upload documents such as expense information.

2. Our Family Wizard

Cost: $99 per year, per parent

Benefits: Has all of the calendar features of Google calendar, with the added features of secure messaging and the ability to upload expenses that need to be reimbursed such as medical bills. You can also store family information such as immunization records and insurance cards. The use of Our Family Wizard has been ordered by courts all over the United States, so it is widely considered a reliable record for communications scheduling and expenses.

Drawbacks: For cash-strapped parents, the cost can be prohibitive. Amazon indicates a lot of 1 star reviews with complaints about the app crashing, not very user friendly, and not worth the money.

3.  AppClose

Cost: FREE

Benefits: Provides all the calendar features of Google and Our Family Wizard, has secure messaging, sharing and exporting of records, and incorporated expense reimbursement through the app itself. This app has scheduling templates or you can fully customize your schedule. Online reviews are excellent and indicate that this app is very user-friendly.

Drawbacks: This app is relatively new compared to the other options, so other parents, courts, or attorneys may be more resistant or skeptical of using it.

Six Tips for Finding a Family Law Attorney

Six Tips for Finding a Family Law Attorney

First of all, what exactly is family law? Family Law is an umbrella term that applies to any type of dispute that affects families, such as divorce, child support, child custody, adoption, termination of parental rights, petitions for protection from abuse, alimony, pre and post-nuptial agreements, and more. It can also include wills, powers of attorney, health care directives, guardianships, and conservatorships.

1. Ask your family and friends

Experts currently put the divorce rate at around 39 percent, so the odds are that someone very close to you has been through a divorce. Ask them what lawyer they used and what their experience was like. Keep in mind that every person and every case is different, so the lawyer that may have been a good fit for them and their situation, may or may not be the best lawyer for you.

2. Research online

There is a wealth of information online about attorneys. If they have a website, you can learn about their background and what kind of work they do. You may also have the opportunity to read some of their writing or watch them speak in a video (like on this blog). If they do not have a website or you cannot find them online at all, that may not be a good sign. 

In the Mobile, Alabama area, a lot of solo practitioners and older attorneys do not have websites, but it is not necessarily a reflection on their qualifications. It is easy for clients to post reviews about attorneys, so the process and the person is not quite as mysterious as they once were. This means it is also easy for a person who is disgruntled about their situation to hop online and blame their attorney, so online reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt too.

3. Check with the bar association

Information about attorney discipline, which is whether they have been sanctioned by the bar association for ethical violations, can now be found online at alabar.org

4. Call their office

If you cannot get anyone on the phone or you leave a message and no one calls you back, that does not bode well for future communication and responsiveness. Some solo attorneys may not have any staff or have a small staff, so do not be alarmed if you have to leave a voicemail when you call. If you do not get a return call within 24 hours, it is probably a good idea to look elsewhere. Once you make contact, you can ask questions about consultation fees and the types of cases they take.

5. Meet with them

There is a wide mix of personalities in the legal world, just like everywhere else, so it might be a good idea to try and meet with a couple of attorneys. You will be working with this person a lot, and they may be an excellent attorney, but it is not going to work for you if you and the attorney do not mesh well. 

6. Watch for red flags

An attorney can never “guarantee” a particular outcome in a case, so if the attorney is promising you the sun, moon, and stars, beware. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! 

Top Four Mistakes Clients Make When Getting Divorced

Top Four Mistakes Clients Make When Getting Divorced

1. Not Keeping Good Records

Divorce can be a very chaotic, confusing, and stressful time. It may be more difficult than usual to remember everything that is going on or what you need to do, but ironically, it is more important than ever. A divorce case may be pending for a year or more, which only increases the difficulty. 

I ask my clients to keep a log or a journal of significant events that occur while their case is pending. It can also help jog your memory of important information you need to share with your lawyer. You also need to keep records of support payments or other matters that may be disputed, such as what days which person had the children in their care.

2. Not Maintaining Clear Communication with Your Spouse

You are getting divorced, so it is safe to say communication between you and your spouse has been a problem to one degree or another.  Also, spouses may use phone conversations as a pretext to start fights or cause conflict. 

When you communicate with your spouse about important matters, it is a good idea to keep it in writing, such as text or email, or at least memorialize it in writing.  This can be a simple as a short email that says “This will confirm we agreed you are picking Susie up this Friday at 5:00 p.m.”

3. Putting too Much Information on Social Media

Social media is great for keeping up with family and friends, sharing photos etc but it can be a trap for a lot of people. Social media is NOT the place to broadcast the details of your divorce. No matter how secure your privacy setting are, someone on your friends list will pass information about your activities on to your spouse if they think it will be helpful to them. 

When you post a rant about what a jerk your spouse it or post pictures and activities of you and the person you are having an affair with, your children will see it, your children’s teachers and friend’s parents will see it, and your boss and co-workers will see it. If you need to vent, contact a trusted friend or family member or a therapist. Keep it private!

4. Forgetting that Your Spouse is Gathering Evidence Against You

When you get divorced, you and your spouse are opposing parties in a lawsuit. They can and will use every opportunity to gather evidence to use against you. They will be saving your texts and emails. They may be audio and or video recording you. It is very easy to do on your cellphone! 

No matter how angry or upset you get, you need to keep this in mind. Do not say anything to your spouse that you would not want everyone, including the judge in your case to hear.

Top Ten Documents You Need to Prepare for Your Divorce

Top Ten Documents You Need to Prepare for Your Divorce

A lot of divorce clients ask me, what documents do I need to get together? Here is a list of some of the most important documents you will need:

  1. Complete income tax returns, W2s, and other like documents for the last 3 years.
  2.  Year-to-date income information (such as pay stubs) for yourself and your spouse.
  3. Statements for banking and other financial accounts for the past 12 months.
  4. Statements for credit cards and other debts for the past 12 months.
  5.  If you have children, copies of the monthly out-of-pocket cost of health insurance and the number of people covered on the plan. If you have employer-provided health insurance, this may be on your pay stub.
  6. If you have children, copies of any work-related daycare expense.
  7. Deeds, appraisals, mortgages, or other like documents for all real estate.
  8. Your will and your spouse’s will.
  9. Life insurance policies for you and your spouse.
  10. Certificates of title or other ownership documents regarding any cars, boats, motorcycles, RVs, or any type of titled vehicle.
Upcoming Changes in Alimony and Taxation

Upcoming Changes in Alimony and Taxation

Under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), alimony will no longer be tax-deductible effective January 2019.  Currently, alimony or spousal support payments are deductible to the payer and taxable to the payee. This applies to all current divorce or support orders and any that are signed through December 31, 2018.  Effective January 1, 2019, in all new orders entered, alimony is not deductible to the payer or taxable to the payee.  The TCJA also specifically provides that the tax treatment of a prior alimony payment may be modified to take the new tax treatment into account, but only if the parties agree.  Modifications must specifically state that the TCJA tax treatment of alimony payments now applies.

With this deadline approaching, you may want to consider either proceeding with your divorce before the end of the year, or waiting until 2019, depending on how the taxation affects you. It may also be time for you to consider a modification of a prior order. Contact our office for a consultation if you think this applies to you.

Other resources on this issue:

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/new-tax-law-eliminates-alimony-deductions-but-not-for-everybody-2018-01-23

https://www.kiplinger.com/article/taxes/T055-C005-S001-under-the-new-tax-law-is-my-alimony-tax-free.html