Have the other party move out and change the locks
This seems obvious, but in today's economy, some people try to live together while the divorce is pending to save money. In cases where there is a power imbalance or history of emotional abuse, it typically is a good idea for the parties to take the first step and actually live apart. It is hard to think or talk on the phone when your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is lurking in the next room or the garage. Changing the locks is not as extreme as it sounds. You don't want your journals to go missing then see them as a court exhibit.
Get a secure e-mail account
Many people keep a home computer accessible to all family members. It often is a good idea to set up a new e-mail account with a password that only you know about for lawyer correspondence or simply for your own privacy.
Take a break, let your thoughts marinate
High conflict spouses often demonstrate their power by demanding immediate answers to their questions. If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are unable to have a productive, non-verbally abusive conversation with each other, then you need to take steps to reduce the conflict. Let the phone call go to voicemail and think about what you want to say if and when calling back. Use e-mail, but don't respond hastily; think about your response overnight. This is not advice to play games. Sometimes slowing down the response time helps communication. Although we have become used to instant communication, not that many things qualify as true emergencies that need an immediate attention.
Monitor your finances and take action
When trust is lost between spouses, money often starts moving around. Keep track of what you have. If you don't know what you have, figure it out. Now. This may mean making copies of financial papers you see in the house, going to the bank to get statements or going online. If you think that something fishy is going on, it probably is. Seriously consider getting a court order to put a holding pattern on the family assets.
Make a list of your assets and debts
Eventually all your assets and debts are going to be put into a spreadsheet and split up. Start making that list with account numbers and balances. Put everything you can think of on the list -- bank accounts, retirement accounts, children's accounts, life insurance, all personal property, car values, separate property claims, credit cards, mortgage and line of credit balances, etc.
Make a list of your expenses.
You don't know what to ask for or what is reasonable unless you know what you need. Go through your old credit card statements and checkbook to figure out your cash flow. It's not fun, but knowing this information will help you figure out where you stand financially.
Get ready to explain your value as a parent
If your spouse is going to unreasonably fight with you on the parenting plan, you most likely are going to end up having to explain your parenting involvement in some forum -- written sworn statement, interview with a parenting evaluator, deposition or trial. Start making the list of what you do on a daily basis and in the big picture for your children (think physical, medical, educational, social and spiritual needs). Ask your lawyer for a copy of the state law that lists the criteria for determining a parenting plan and use that as a starting point. Also start thinking about who would be a good witness to testify about your active and involved parenting. Quality, not quantity count in the witness department.
Start building your team
Divorcing a high conflict spouse is an emotional roller coaster and you will need to build a team of support. Get a therapist and financial advisor to help you navigate the process. Your lawyer is your advocate, not a therapist or social friend. Keep the boundaries separate.
Don't accept cookie cutter documents
High conflict cases require special attention to details. The high conflict parent won't return the soccer cleats "because I bought them", refuses to reimburse extracurricular expenses in a timely manner or brings up inappropriate topics during transfers because it's fun to push your buttons. You're going to have to let go of some things and roll your eyes. However, conflict can be reduced through careful drafting by an attorney who understands this type of situation. Establishing deadlines, writing out requirements about seemingly mundane items and scheduling transfers after school or daycare, are just some examples of provisions that may reduce future problems.
Focus on the end result
As in any litigation, all issues in a divorce case are going to be disposed of by agreement of the parties or by a trial. High conflict parents like high drama and sometimes behave as if they don't want the divorce process to end. A client faced with this type of situation needs to lead the way towards the final documents. This means focusing on facts and staying professional. Every case, even yours, has strengths and weaknesses. Figure out what your bottom line is and stick with it.
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