High Conflict Divorces cost time, money and emotional energy. One hallmark of active disputing is verbal abuse: insulting, belittling and demeaning interchanges that occur weekly, often on the telephone or at a time of a transfer of a child from one home to the other. A Background Paper from the Department of Justice - Canada, shows the degree of conflict may be heightened. Significant others (extended family, friends, new partners) may fuel the conflict. Disputes can be sharpened by a party's humiliation, sadness, helplessness, guilt or fear. Without intending to increase a dispute, attorneys, advocates in an adversarial system, contribute to the degree of conflict by advising clients not to talk to their spouse, making extreme demands to increase bargaining advantage and filing motions in a public forum that characterize the spouse in a negative light.
Steven Hirsch, a Rhode Island Divorce Mediator, knows from years of experience that parties fitting into categories 1 - 4 below greatly benefit from mediation. Participating in a protected controlled environment with a neutral mediator, trained to recognize and lessen power imbalances, allows parties to express their ideas, express their fears and concerns and "get off their chest" the complaints that have bothered them days or years. I have seen many parents walk into mediation believing that they will never agree on anything, only to smile and nod in agreement as the other parent describes their child and then reach an agreement on goals for a parenting plan. Reaching agreement on children becomes the paradigm allowing option-generation on other issues.
The degrees of conflict can be described as follows:
- Cooperative parents.
- Ability to separate children's needs from own needs.
- Can validate importance of other parent.
- Can acknowledge competency of other parent.
- Conflict is resolved using only occasional expressions of anger.
- Negative emotions quickly brought under control.
- Occasionally berates other parent in front of child.
- Occasional verbal quarreling in front of children.
- Questioning child about personal matters about the other parent.
- Occasional attempts to forma coalition with child against other parent.
- Verbal abuse without threat/history of physical violence.
- Loud quarreling.
- Denigration of other parent.
- Threatens to limit access of other parent.
- Threats of litigation.
- Ongoing attempts to form coalition with child around isolated issues.
4. Moderately Severe
- Threatened violence.
- Slamming doors, throwing things.
- Verbally threatening harm or kidnapping.
- Continued litigation.
- Attempts to form permanent coalition with child (parental alienation).
- Child experiences emotional endangerment.
- Endangered by physical or sexual abuse.
- Drug or alcohol abuse to point of impairment
- Severe psychological pathology.