How can you plan to divorce your high conflict spouse?

written by

Emma Heptonstall Image

date published

14th November 2022

If your spouse is a high conflict personality type, buckle up. Your divorce, unfortunately, will be a bumpy ride. But it’s a journey worth making: the rest of your life awaits. In this blog I share the potential pitfalls of divorcing a high conflict person, compared with a more standard divorce, and what you need to put in place to ensure the process is as smooth as possible. Read on for more on how you can plan to divorce your high conflict spouse.

Plan before you act

If it’s safe to do so, get your ducks in a row before you leave. I understand this may feel tortuous, that once you’ve decided your marriage is over you just want to get on with it. But planning first has many benefits, especially when it comes to high conflict personalities.

In my decades of supporting clients through marriage, I’ve seen so many women leave in a rush, and then return, often for years more of unhappy marriage before leaving again. They plucked up the courage to go, and thought it was best to get it done. But the adrenaline that motivates a rushed decision will fizzle out. And in its place you’ll be left feeling lost and out of options. Leaving your high conflict ex with all the power.

Taking your time means you will be prepared. It means you can:

  • Get your paperwork in one place. You will need personal documents such as your birth certificate or passport. Locating these and getting them to a safe place before declaring you’re leaving means your ex-spouse can’t play power games and withhold them from you.
  • Investigate your financial situation. It’s likely your soon-to-be-ex will be obstructive when it comes to reaching any sort of agreement. So it’s important you have as much information as possible. It will usually be easier to access joint financial information before you leave, and it gives your soon-to-be-ex less chance to hide anything too. Remember it’s illegal to access data that doesn’t belong to you, so don’t be tempted to snoop into your spouse’s private accounts. There are legal ways to find information and experts who can help you in due course if you suspect foul play.
  • Plan where to live. If your safety is at stake it’s essential to get out and seek emergency accommodation. But if you have time to plan, think about where you will live while the divorce process unfolds. What’s best for you will depend on your specific circumstances: whose name is on the deeds, mortgage or rental agreement? Your preference may be to stay in the marital home and ask your soon-to-be-ex to leave. But what if they say no? It’s important to investigate your options carefully, as any decisions you make now may have implications for the resolution of your divorce. I can’t offer legal advice, but I can help you reach a more informed decision if you want a one-to-one conversation.
  • Work on your emotional resilience. Ground yourself in your decision, and remember why you are doing this. Taking action with a calm, empowered mindset is a world away from reacting on a spur of the minute impulse. If you can go into your divorce knowing it will be difficult, but ultimately worth it, you are more likely to stay the course.
  • Get a team around you. The right team will be up to you, and in high conflict cases you need as much support as you can get. The right therapist, coach and solicitor can ensure you stay focussed on reality, and not the narrative your soon-to-be-ex will spin. They will help you take the right steps to minimise confrontation and close down power plays.
  • Enlist family and friends. Know who to trust, and with what. Having a few people you can vent with, or who will take care of you when you’re exhausted will make all the difference.

Use mediation tactically

In amicable divorce mediation is usually the best option. It means you and your soon-to-be-ex can be supported to agree to a settlement that feels fair to both of you. It’s usually less costly and time-consuming than going via court.

In high conflict divorce it’s likely that mediation will not work. High conflict personalities aren’t looking for resolution, or fairness. They are looking to win. You could find yourself wasting many hours going round in circles, or despairing at the convoluted justifications and word salad your soon-to-be-ex comes up with.

But that doesn’t mean mediation can’t be helpful. It can give you an insight into your soon-to-be-ex’s thought patterns and assumptions. Enter into mediation with guarded politeness. Don’t give too much away, and spend most of your time listening. Make a note of what they want, and what their knowledge about your marital assets is. Does it match yours? Have they given you new information?

If you can reach agreement through mediation – great. It’s not impossible. Just be careful to make sure you’re happy with the terms. Don’t let yourself be manipulated or railroaded into anything that you’ll regret further down the line. A mediator will hold the space for you, but ultimately the decision whether to agree is yours. You have a right to say no.

Use the stick!

If your soon-to-be-ex refuses to engage in mediation, or if it doesn’t work, move on. Your solicitor can ask for financial disclosure to inform a settlement. Without a court order these disclosures are voluntary, so they may not arrive. And if they do they may not contain full information. High conflict personalities are experts at deflecting, projecting and muddying the waters, leaving you confused and exhausted.

Don’t be afraid to start court proceedings. If we think of people as carrot people: motivated by lovely things in the future, wanting to do things with minimal pain, and stick people: only acting when absolutely compelled to (unless it’s their own agenda), high conflict types are definitely stick people!

They will only act if forced to do so and even then, they will try and manipulate the court process. Filing late, filing incomplete disclosures, feigning illness to get adjournments: you may well experience it all. There’s no getting away from the fact this is infuriating, but you will be in a better emotional state to deal with it if you know to expect it.

However your soon-to-be-ex behaves, the court process gives you a framework. It provides structure to hold onto in the midst of all the chaos. You can bring yourself back to the process and remind yourself that their narrative is irrelevant.

They may rant about how unreasonable, incompetent or selfish you’re being. Once you go to court, it’s up to the judge to decide. It really doesn’t matter if they think you don’t deserve to share their pension. Or if they don’t want to pay maintenance. It’s in the hands of the court. And your job, alongside your legal representation, is to ensure they don’t present false, misleading or incomplete information.

Get your plan in place

A plan is essential if you’re divorcing a high conflict personality. Yet when you’re dealing with the emotional rollercoaster, especially if you’ve only just realised your soon-to-be-ex is high conflict, getting into that strategic mindset is hard.

That’s where I come in.

I have the coaching skills to empower you to take the reins: now and into the future, breaking damaging cycles of behaviour.

I have the legal experience to help you plan your divorce process: to envision the future you want and take the steps to get there.

And I have the high conflict diversion training to equip you for the specific tricks and tactics your spouse will employ to keep you in their power.

I’m not going to pretend working with me will get rid of all your problems. But I can guarantee you’ll be able to handle what comes your way with more confidence, wisdom and clarity than you would going it alone.

I’d love to help you get the rest of your life underway. Contact me to book a free 30 minute consultation


About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of  The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit


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