The 2 ways your high conflict ex will try and control your financial settlement

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date published

28th November 2022

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Emma Heptonstall

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date published

28th November 2022

When it comes  to high conflict spouses, money is often a huge issue. And it’s not even about money. Money is just an easy focus of control. It’s a way they can get to you, and control you. In this blog I share two of the most common ways your high conflict ex will try and control your financial settlement, and what you can do about it. 

Strategy A: Take Control

If you’ve been expecting your soon-to-be-ex to drag their heels and cause obstructions every step of the way, this strategy can be a welcome surprise – at first! But beware.

What it looks like

If your high conflict soon-to-be-ex is trying to wrest control of the financial settlement, they will come up with the answers. They might do this very quickly, within a day sometimes. They will have a neatly packaged proposal and want to get it pushed through as soon as possible. 

Their proposal may look reasonable, and they will certainly claim it is. They may have an intricately coded spreadsheet, full of notes and calculations. There may be a proliferation of data, all supporting their case. It looks like they’ve got everything covered. And they’ll insist they’re being co-operative and just getting on with it, pushing you to agree.  

The red flags

  • A race against the clock. So they’ve done some preparation, and they’re saying they want this agreed as quickly as possible. But what’s the big rush? Sure, no one wants divorce to go on forever. And if they’re actually moving things forward it can be tempting to go with it. But this is another control strategy: they’re attempting to seize control of the pace of your divorce as well as the finances. 
  • Disregard for due process. They say they know what they’re doing and you ‘don’t need’ a solicitor, mediator or Form E? This is a huge red flag, they are trying to exclude any scrutiny. 
  • Deflecting your questions. You want to engage with what they’ve done, you want to understand where the figures have come from, and what the consequences of the arrangement will be for your future. Of course you have questions! And you can bet they’ll use every trick in the book to deflect them: whether it’s turning nasty to shut you down, throwing red herrings at you, or talking nonsense, you’re not getting any straight answers. And if you do get answers, they’re not to be questioned. Everything is to be taken as the absolute truth. 

How to respond

This strategy often works well for the high conflict person because the other party (you) is so relieved they’re co-operating, they just want it all over. Who cares whether you lose out on some money? 

Well, only you can answer that question. If you can see that your soon-to-be-ex is railroading you, you have a choice. You can either go along with it, and settle for whatever sum they have deemed is reasonable. Cut your losses and run – but do it with your eyes open. Or, you can disrupt their strategy. Not for the sake of it: you’re not the one playing power games. But because you have every right to make fully informed decisions.

Take the time you need, whatever pressure they are putting on. Get the second opinions you need, whether they are from a financial adviser, legal expert or both. If your soon-to-be-ex holds all the wealth and is refusing to allow you access you can apply to the court for interim maintenance and a legal services order to get the professional support you need. 

Do not be pressured into representing yourself on your soon-to-be-ex’s say so if you can afford not to. A lawyer with experience of dealing with high conflict cases is much better placed to take on your soon-to-be-ex and their mind games. If you can’t afford a lawyer, make sure you question everything. You may not get answers to your questions – but those non-answers also tell you something. Everything is useful: keep records! 

Strategy B: Obstruct, obstruct, obstruct

What it looks like

Getting blood from a stone. That’s what it feels like if your soon-to-be-ex decides not to play ball. They don’t like the fact you’re divorcing, so there’s no way they’re going to help things progress. This might look like point blank refusal to engage. Or it may be more subtle: agreement to disclose finances, then running down the clock. Cancelling mediation appointments. Simply not following through and doing what they said they would. Giving the bare minimum and not responding to requests for further information. 

The red flags

  • False information. In some ways if they point blank refuse to comply at all, it’s simpler. At least you know where you stand. But many high conflict personalities are more subtle than that. They’ll give you bits and pieces of information, on their own timescales. It won’t necessarily be information you can trust. Whether it’s house valuations, income or expenditure, don’t take any of the data at face value. 
  • Missing information. Even more subtle than false information is partial disclosure. It can look as though they are playing along. But the figures don’t quite seem right. What about that other savings account, or their company pension? Turns out they haven’t bothered disclosing those…
  • Saying one thing and doing another. Many high conflict personalities put on a good show in front of the authorities. They can appear the very model of co-operation and respectability. Yes it’s a different story behind closed doors. Whether it’s tone and language, or failing to do what they say they would, you can’t rely on your soon-to-be-ex, whatever they promise in public.

How to respond

If you suspect you aren’t getting a full or accurate financial disclosure, you’re entitled to query it. You may be able to legally access the data yourself. Don’t ever be tempted to access private data belonging to your soon-to-be-ex: it’s illegal. You could land yourself in trouble, and you can’t legally make use of anything you find anyway. So use public records: public social media, Companies House, LinkedIn – anywhere that gives you clues about their earning or lifestyle. 

If your soon-to-be-ex has a high net worth, you might want to consider using a professional asset tracer to help track down assets they have declined to disclose. This will cost you money, but if you’re confident they are hiding something, it may serve you well financially to spend now. If, on the other hand, there are few assets in the marriage, you’ll need to do the research yourself. It’s simply not worth shelling out thousands to gain a few more pennies in your financial arrangement. 

Strong record keeping is your friend when it comes to dealing with a high conflict ex. Aim to keep your communication in writing. This means you have an evidence trail if needed. If you can evidence you have calmly and repeatedly asked for information to no avail, and refuted their figures with evidence of your own, a judge is unlikely to look favourably on them, however they perform on the day. 

Hold your nerve

Whichever strategy they deploy, it’s exhausting for you. And that’s what they’re counting on. They’re hoping that at some point you’ll just fold: you’ll accept their unfair offer, or stop seeking a fair agreement and either return to the marriage or just give them everything to get it done.

So it’s absolutely essential you look after yourself. That you mentally prepare for the marathon, and don’t get ground down by setbacks. Allow yourself time to pause and rant. Then, seek the support you need, re-group and carry on. There will be times you feel you’re going backwards. You’re not. Every time you set a boundary and enforce it you are showing your soon-to-be-ex you are no longer prepared to play their games. They won’t like it. They will kick off. But, ultimately, it’s moving you both in the right direction. 

This is a hard journey to take alone. And it’s hard to know who to trust. Who has the relevant expertise, emotional distance and coaching skills to help you make wise decisions in this mindfield? 

I do. I can help you every step of the way. I can be there to help you plan, debrief, reassess and act. Together we can course correct to make sure whatever your soon-to-be-ex does, you’re not defeated. I do this work because I want everyone to be free from narcissistic, manipulative spouses. Let me help you find your way to freedom. Book in a free consultation today.

 

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 www.emmaheptonstall.com

 

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