Top Five Things To Put In Place If Your Divorce is High Conflict


date published

16th May 2024

written by

Emma Heptonstall Image

date published

16th May 2024

What’s the difference between a ‘standard’ level of conflict in divorce and a high conflict divorce? You can find that out here. If your divorce is high conflict, you need to get a new strategy in place. Here are the top five things you need to put in place now, if your divorce is high conflict:

1. A new game plan

The number one thing you need to do if your divorce is high conflict is to recognise you need a new approach. Let go of the idea that ‘If I’m nice and reasonable, they’ll be nice and reasonable.’ It just isn’t going to happen. And it may take you some time to come to terms with that. But you need to.

One of my early clients, Katie, really struggled with this. She bent over backwards for her ex-spouse, both during the marriage and the divorce. She offered to help him fill in his Form E, when he wouldn’t engage. She kept offering concessions around the marital assets to try and get him to come round. It was only when she worked with me that she saw this wasn’t going to help. He was going to keep sabotaging divorce progress and keep her dangling. While chipping away at her sense of self-worth. It was a source of control.

In the end, I supported Katie to see the situation for what it was, and she started to look out for herself, her children and her future. She kept her head down, used the BIFF strategy to minimise antagonising her husband while moving things forward. It was important to Katie that she could be an available parent for her young children, one of whom was disabled. So she made tactical choices about the financial settlement, and kept the rental properties from the marriage. Technically, she probably could have got a better deal, but the settlement gave her what she needed for her vision of the future, and she is now free of her husband and has a thriving property business, which means she can be there for her children.

When it comes to high conflict, it’s about holding firm to your reality. All the rest of these points will help you with that – but you need to get your head in the game first.

2. Trained legal support

If you’re in a high conflict divorce, you need a lawyer if at all possible. It is possible to navigate high conflict divorces without legal representation, and I have supported some amazing women to do that – but if you have the financial means, I strongly recommend getting a lawyer.

Not all lawyers are trained in high conflict cases. Just as it’s vital that you understand the need for a specific strategy when it comes to your high conflict soon-to-be-ex, so does your legal team. Make sure you interview lawyers before engaging them, and check their credentials when it comes to high conflict:

    • What experience do they have when it comes to high conflict cases?
    • Do they recognise high conflict behaviour, including when it is disguised?
    • Do they have any qualifications in high conflict dispute resolution?

It’s especially important you trust your legal team when it comes to high conflict, as a high conflict or narcissistic ex-spouse is likely to be manipulative. I know some fantastic lawyers who specialise in this area if you’d like personal recommendations for your case.

3. Documentation

Document everything. Communicate in writing as far as possible, so you can’t be mis-interpreted. If you need to communicate about children, Our Family Wizard is a fantastic tool that means all communication is contained in one place (no more worrying about explosive WhatsApp messages waiting for you), and recorded.

If you are missing documentation, or suspect your spouse is lying or hiding assets, you may want to engage the specialist services of an asset tracer or forensic accountant. I can help you find trusted professionals if needed.

4. Boundaries

Boundaries help keep you safe. Good boundaries have three ingredients:

    1. Decide on the right boundaries for you
    2. Communicate them effectively
    3. Maintain them

Dealing with a high conflict person tests all three. Firstly, how do you know what is the right boundary for you? Your soon-to-be-ex will certainly tell you you’re being unreasonable or crazy, whatever you go for. When it comes to communication, they won’t be happy. Your job is to stay calm and clear. And they will certainly cross those boundaries, whether it’s about calling at 3am, dropping the children off late, or saying they will do something then not following through. Remember: you can’t control what they do. But you can plan for what happens when your boundary is crossed. What can you do to reset it?

5. A team

I’m not one to bad mouth others in my industry, but I am always dismayed when new clients tell me other divorce coaches have told them ‘they don’t need anyone else to support them’.
I’m going to be honest. Whether your divorce is high conflict or not, it is always a good idea to build a team of people around you. They don’t all have to be paid-for professionals – trusted friends or neighbours for emotional or practical support can be a godsend. But you’re on firmer footing when you know there’s a team of people who are there for you than when you’re reliant on one person – that just makes sense.

And, especially when it comes to high conflict divorce, it’s worth thinking about these people, in addition to a lawyer:

    • Counsellor or therapist: high conflict situations are traumatising and toxic. I can help you understand and come to terms with your situation – and a therapist can be invaluable for deeper processing and psychological support
    • Financial adviser: financial abuse is one of the go-tos of high conflict people. Independent financial advice, whether through a wealth manager, financial planner or specialist accountant can be essential if you have complex finances
    • Asset tracer: if you suspect your spouse is hiding assets from you, you can seek specialist help
    • Divorce coach: of course I’m going to recommend a divorce coach! And, like lawyers, not all are trained in high conflict divorces. (I’d caution that personal experience of narcissistic abuse does not equate to training in supporting others through high conflict divorce). A divorce coach can be the lynch pin to your divorce process. We’ll work both on you – your sense of self, your needs and values, and your plan – what you want and need, and how to make it happen in the face of all the obstacles your high conflict spouse will throw your way.

If you’re reading that and feeling daunted by the task ahead, and the number of professionals you may end up working with, I understand. But the right team will save you time, money and heartache. It means you can have the right conversations with the right people, and I can help you join all the dots.

You don’t have to do everything at once. You do just need to see that the path to take might not be the one you were hoping for. It’s a path less trodden, and more thorny. But you’re equipped for it. I’m equipped for it – this is the work I do. And we can walk it together. Book in your free call here.


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 programmes, and the newly released ‘Should I be a Lady Who Leaves?’. For More Information on Should I be a Lady Who Leaves? click here.

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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