Divorce is never easy, even under the most amicable circumstances when spouses agree to part ways but remain on civil or even friendly terms and make their out-of-court settlement. But when divorcing spouses have a highly contentious divorce due to hard feelings toward each other and/or battles over child custody and the division of their assets, emotions may quickly spiral out of control, leading to disputes on nearly every term of the divorce. So how do divorcing spouses avoid common pitfalls when their divorce involves multiple disputes, grievances, and conflicts?
What Causes a High-Conflict Divorce?
Many divorces become high-conflict processes due to one or more common factors. In some cases, the conflict arises because the spouses have hard feelings for one another, or both spouses have the desire to inflict pain on each other or seek retribution by making things as difficult as possible. In other circumstances, a divorce becomes a high-conflict divorce because serious disputes arise as the parties try to create a settlement agreement to divide and distribute their marital assets fairly. Some spouses may battle over child custody with one or both parents seeking full custody or a larger share of the parenting time. Finally, when a lower-earning spouse seeks spousal support (alimony) from the higher-earning spouse it often becomes highly contentious as the higher-earner may resent having to pay their ex-spouse every month after finalizing the divorce.
When divorcing spouses have significant disagreements that they cannot work out in mutually acceptable compromises during the divorce process, it’s considered a high-conflict divorce.
What to Do First When a Divorce Becomes a High-Conflict Situation?
If the divorce process quickly becomes hotly contentious, it’s sometimes best to set boundaries immediately. This may mean being firm about meeting with your spouse only with your attorney present, communicating strictly through emails, or applying for temporary protection orders against a spouse who is threatening violence or has a history of physical violence. It may also mean speaking to your attorney about applying for temporary orders. Temporary orders are legal boundaries set by a judge that temporarily resolve disputes by putting a structure in place during the divorce process before the final orders. Temporary orders may include orders for the following:
- Temporary child custody and parenting schedule
- Child support
- Temporary spousal support paid from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earner
- A temporary designation for one spouse to remain living in the marital home
- Temporary freezes on accounts or restrictions on how each spouse may spend or use marital assets and property
Not only do temporary orders put protections in place and provide a court-ordered structure for both spouses to follow, but they can also be an important first step toward both spouses accepting that they will have to follow a judge’s orders after the divorce when the final orders are in place.
Attend Mediation With Both Attorneys Present
One of the best ways to resolve disputes during the divorce settlement process is to attend mediation. Your Denver divorce lawyer will set up an appointment with a professional mediator in a safe setting with both attorneys present. In mediation, a neutral third party with years of experience in all aspects of Colorado divorce law sits down with divorcing spouses and their lawyers and goes over every legal dispute in the divorce, offering novel solutions, recommending compromise, and facilitating communication. They may inform the spouses what a judge is likely to decide on each contested matter so they are more likely to be able to resolve themselves to mutually acceptable terms without the need for court.
It may take several attempts at mediation to resolve all disputes, especially in high-conflict divorces. If mediation doesn’t end in agreements on every aspect of the settlement, the spouses will have to go to court and present their sides on each issue for a judge to decide.
Agree to Arbitration Instead of Court
If mediation resolves some disputes but not all, the next step to navigate a high-conflict divorce in Colorado may be arbitration. In arbitration, a neutral arbitrator who is well-versed in Colorado divorce and child custody laws meets with both spouses and hears their side of each dispute before making a binding decision in all contested matters just as a judge would. When the spouses agree to arbitration, they must abide by the arbitrator’s decisions. Then the agreement is sent to a judge to sign. Arbitration is less expensive than court and takes less time.
Choose a Collaborative Divorce in Colorado
A collaborative divorce is a good alternative for both ends of the contention spectrum. When spouses agree to part amicably and resolve any disputes without the need for a contentious court battle, a collaborative divorce works well. In a collaborative divorce, both spouses agree to avoid court by arranging a series of negotiations with their lawyers, mediators, financial experts, and family counselors to draft a divorce agreement without the need for court. Surprisingly, a collaborative divorce is also a good choice for divorcing spouses in a high-conflict divorce situation. Instead of an expensive and prolonged court battle, they agree to collaborate with a series of experts to settle each hotly disputed divorce term until they reach compromises and mutually acceptable terms.
Litigating a High-Conflict Divorce
In some high-conflict divorces, all attempts at mediation and collaboration fail and you need the help of a Denver family law lawyer. This occurs either due to hard feelings, unwillingness to compromise, or because one spouse believes the other to be a danger to the children or unfairly seeking assets they are not entitled to. When spouses in a high-conflict divorce in Colorado cannot reach an out-of-court agreement on one or more divorce terms, they must present testimony and evidence of their position on each disputed term in court for an impartial judge to decide for them.
Protect the Children Throughout the Colorado High-Conflict Divorce Process
No matter how heated the contention becomes in a high-conflict divorce, the most important aspect of navigating through the process is to protect the children from as much conflict as possible. Never use them as bargaining chips or as a means of hurting an ex-spouse. Resist speaking ill of the other parent to them or in front of them. Remember that the court in Colorado considers continued close contact with both parents as in a child’s best interest. It’s best to use that as your starting point when discussing and negotiating child custody terms.