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High Conflict Personalities in Family Law Cases

Conflict is an inherent aspect of lawsuits in America. Our justice system is modeled on the adversarial legal system of England, where each party must “fight” in opposition to the other party to convince a judge to side with their interests and goals.

In family law cases, personal conflict is often at the heart of the legal issues at play. When a divorce or other family law matter involves one or more parties possessing “high-conflict personalities,” the results can be calamitous. This blog explores the nature of some high-conflict personalities and how they can negatively impact a family law matter.

High Conflict Personalities

Unfortunately, exposure to high-conflict personalities in family law cases is not as rare as it would be in average social encounters. High-conflict personalities may stem from mental health conditions like narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Generally, a narcissistic personality is characterized by an inflated sense of self, which drives many excessive attention-seeking behaviors and impairs their ability to empathize with others. Consequently, a narcissistic personality has remarkable difficulty facing criticism—tending to blame others and approaching situations from an overly competitive standpoint.

For example, someone with narcissistic personality disorder may have an unusually skewed perspective of events, causing them to relate facts in a way that either makes them look good or others badly. As a result, both attorneys—in addition to their other party—can expect to experience major difficulties in developing a consistent and reliable factual history for the family law case.

Another example of a high-conflict personality is someone with borderline personality disorder. Such a personality is driven by an intense fear of abandonment, leading to violating personal and social boundaries. As a result, negotiation and even litigation might be impacted by such blurred boundaries.

For example, a client with borderline personality might disregard structured approaches to communications by calling or messaging the other party, or the attorneys—sometimes expecting them to perform tasks outside the scope of the professional or personal relationship.

Ultimately, whether a high-conflict personality arises from a complicated psychological condition or not, they tend to share attributes like defensiveness, lashing out, and an exceptional sense of self-worth. Such attributes combine and mix in a recipe for non-cooperation and ongoing discord between the parties.

More often than not, a high-conflict personality struggles with substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, this puts spouses, romantic partners, relatives, and other household members at risk for domestic violence.

Protracted Litigation

The difficulties that high-conflict personalities bring to a family law case can lead to expensive results. A self-centered personality can bring an extra dimension of competitiveness to an already adversarial situation. To the high-conflict personality, the legal process is a tool to harass the opposing party, rather than to seek justice.

Furthermore, the twisted sense of reality that such personalities harbor tends to disrupt the attorneys’ ability to reconstruct timelines and a reliable record of facts. The lawsuit itself might be serving as a mode of getting attention for the narcissistic or borderline personality. As a consequence, family law cases involving one or more high-conflict personalities can get unnecessarily dragged out for years—with extraordinary cases extending past ten years, including thousands of documents,

Concerns for Children

When high-conflict personalities use the justice system to satisfy their need for attention or desire for retribution against the other party, the resulting protracted legal conflict can lead to their children suffering. Although parents might try hard to avoid exposing their kids to the conflict, the children may nevertheless suffer from an unseen effect on their emotional and psychological development.

Significantly, a child’s parents serve as role models for dealing with personal conflicts—observing and adopting their parents’ conduct, whether the parents like it or not. Some children might learn to accept that conflict was the one constant in an otherwise unstable family dynamic. Furthermore, a child might learn to measure their self-worth through conflict if the parties use divorce or custody disputes as weapons to hurt the other party.

Protective Measures Against High-Conflict Personalities

While high-conflict personalities can disrupt the dispute resolution process of either negotiation or litigation, one does not need to bend at the mercy of such personalities. First, parties should inform their attorneys about the high-conflict nature of the other party’s personality. This lets lawyers adjust their communication methods, negotiation strategies, and expectations in dealing with a high-conflict party opponent.

Armed with the understanding that they are dealing with a high-conflict personality, legal advocates can take measure to minimize the disruptiveness of such personalities. Key among these measures is to establish clear and definitive boundaries when it comes to communication, and other interactions.

Furthermore, attorneys can connect their clients with important emotion support and therapeutic resources to help victims of abusers start their journey toward mental and physical healing. For example, spouses or relatives of substance abusers can turn to Al Anon support groups in moving on from toxic relationships.

Importantly, attorneys can utilize legal methods of protection for victims of high-conflict personalities. In cases involving domestic violence, victims are entitled to relief provided by restraining orders. This helps widen the distance between an abusive personality and those they exploit.

Let Our Divorce Attorneys at Fenchel Family Law PC Advocate for You

Have you found yourself embroiled in a high-conflict divorce or other family law conflict? In that case, you should turn to the professional skill and advice of our talented and skilled lawyers from Fenchel Family Law PC. Instability unfortunately breeds instability.

Even if you do not personally suffer from a mental health or substance abuse issue, staying married to—or cohabitating with—a high-conflict personality risks destabilizing an otherwise stable mind. Our legal team takes great pride in the way we can help our clients set boundaries and take their lives back from codependent and harmful relationship dynamics. We have personal experience with such issues and sharing this experience with others to help them escape toxic relationships is a matter we care deeply about.

Call us at (415) 805-9069 or contact our firm online to set up an initial consultation about your case today.