Managing High Conflict Divorce Through Disengagement

In a divorce where children are involved, co-parenting is the ideal approach. However, the reality of the situation is there are different rules a child has to follow in each of their parent’s homes. The difference between co-parenting in a low conflict divorce and that of a high conflict divorce is the ability of BOTH parents to allow the other to parent. Each home will have different rules. It’s important for each parent to trust the other is competent to make the right decisions and be willing to talk about what is going on with the children.

In the high conflict divorce, typically one or both of the parents try to control how the children are raised and may find it difficult to trust other parent’s ability to make good decisions concerning the children. The children become an object to be fought over causing the needs of the children become secondary to the fight.

If you find yourself in a high conflict custody battle, every time you engage with the other parent and argue about any of the many things the two of you fight about, you add energy to the fight an perpetuate the conflict. No matter how you approach a conversation about the children, or any other subject for that matter, your experience is likely to be one of resistance – if not an outright argument.

The question then becomes, how do I manage this ongoing situation? You manage the conflict by not engaging it. You pull your energy away from the fight and disengage from having contact with the other parent. You then set up boundaries that keep the other parent from disrupting your household. You parent independently cooperatively, not adversarial. What you’re doing is you’re focusing on your own world. “This is my world. This is the way I parent.”

The cooperative piece comes in where you’re not pushing the other person’s buttons. You’re not trying to bend them to do something differently. You’re accepting of how they parent, regardless of how they parent, by understanding what’s driving their parenting model and understanding that you have no dominion over it.

You have absolutely no control over their style and if you try to impose your will on them, they are going to fight. If you can say, “Okay, I understand, I understand where they’re coming from and understand the core issues that are driving them,” you can also give the children a buffer from the conflict by not by telling them, “Oh that’s just how mom/dad is” but, by modeling the skill of dealing with that personality

You have to challenge yourself by respectfully setting good boundaries, not any further than right there. “That behavior doesn’t work for me”, so rather than engage in conflict, you disengage from the situation entirely. That piece we are modeling for our children – that boundary setting piece – is the skill set they need in order to learn to deal with conflict in a healthy and appropriate manner.

By managing the conflict in this manner, you are teaching your children how to negotiate in conflicted situations, or at the very least, manage themselves in a way in which they don’t find themselves constantly drawn into conflict.

When you go into an adversarial position, there’s a loser. There’s always a loser. That is what our judicial system is based around, that is what our family courts are based on and that’s where our attorneys go in. They go in to win or lose – and this doesn’t have to be about winning or losing.

Even if you’re in a conflict, it isn’t win or lose. The only losers are your children if you stay in the conflict. And if that means you give up  one day a week and that makes it easier for the kids, then you have to at least explore that option because whatever time you have with them is the time you get to model for them.

If at the root of the conflict it is about money, find another way. It’s an abundant universe. There is always going to be enough if you believe that there’s enough. Sometimes, you have to adjust your lifestyle. “Oh. Well, that can be a very good thing.” Downscale. Get simple. We’ve been running amok in this country for the last 30 years because we’ve learned to live way beyond what we can really do sustainably. It’s important to teach your children a different way of living so they don’t make the same mistakes.

You have to parent from that place that the other parent doesn’t exist, not out of disrespect or out of malice, but out of the need to disengage from the argument and have the energy of the fight dissipate. You have to give your child whatever he or she needs irrespective of the other person’s willingness or ability to do it.

If you parent from that perspective, you’re going to thrive. Your child is going to see the model of what it’s like to take charge of their own life and take care of themselves. They don’t grow up with the idea that someone else is responsible, so the idea of being a victim never occurs to them.

Instead of saying, “So, I should do nothing, then. I shouldn’t go to court to get that daycare money. I just pay on my own,” say, “Okay, no matter what happens, I’m going to do the right thing.”  And the right thing is not about teaching that person a lesson. The right thing is about doing the right thing for your child. Your child needs a pair of shoes. Your child needs some books. Your child needs a new bike. Your child needs an education. Just do it because, if you don’t and you engage the other parent in trying to get them to do the right thing, then you are just going to start the fight all over and the children will be the only losers.

For more information on how to deal with high conflict divorce and custody battles, visit our web site at, or contact Brook Olsen directly @ 760-751-4398

© Brook Olsen 2010

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