The Risks of High-Conflict Divorce

Divorce is one of the most stressful events a person will ever experience. It impacts the most critical aspect of life: your children, where you live, your financial health and your sense of security in the world.

It’s been widely reported that the stress associated with a marital breakup can have a negative impact on your physical health and mental well-being. A new study from the University of British Columbia, suggests that divorce also poses an increased risk of death.

The Risks of High-Conflict Divorce

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It’s been widely reported that the stress associated with a marital breakup can have a negative impact on your physical health and mental well-being. A new study from the University of British Columbia, suggests that divorce also poses an increased risk of death.

UBC researchers found that smoking, divorce and alcohol abuse have the closest connection to death out of 57 social and behavioural factors analyzed in research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

View divorce as a business transaction

As a family law lawyer who has seen the good, the bad and the ugly sides of divorce, the best way to reduce the amount of stress associated with divorce is to minimize the conflict between yourself and your spouse. It’s not easy when emotions are running high, but if you can approach divorce as a business transaction –– as opposed to an emotional battle –– it will serve you and your children in the long run.

The cost of conflict

The inherent stress of a high-conflict divorce takes a toll on everyone involved. Frequently, people turn to unhealthy outlets such as alcohol and drugs to manage the tension. It’s hard, especially with children, to go through one of the most stressful experiences of life and still show up as your best self for your children.

Couples who are divorcing within the framework of a global pandemic are facing extreme levels of stress as they try to manage their break-up in an increasingly complex world.

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I recently represented a client in a lawyer-assisted mediation where the parties were engaged in an ongoing and relentless battle over a number of issues, including child/spousal support. We spent the entire day going back and forth with the other party until my client ended up agreeing to a settlement. I won’t say it was a fair resolution –– he took a significant financial hit –– but he decided that closing the door on this chapter of his life and moving forward was more important than continuing the fight.

It’s not a game with winners and losers

About half of the divorce cases I handle fall into the “contentious” category, and within that, there are varying degrees of acrimony between the partners. On the higher-end of high-conflict disputes, people often look to their divorce settlement to exact revenge on their partner or to provide them with validation, which rarely happens.

Divorce is not a game with winners and losers. Both parties have to compromise, and no one ever gets everything they want. That’s especially true when it ends up in court, where a judge will impose a decision the parties will have to live with, whether they like it or not. If you come to the table with a more cooperative attitude and an earnest desire to settle out of court, you’ll have much more control over the outcome.

Remove the emotion

Even if your anger is justified –– she had an affair, he was emotionally absent –– it’s not a good idea to act on those emotions. Hostility and conflict beget more of the same, leaving both parties emotionally exhausted, and in many cases, depressed.

If you have children, it’s crucial to think about the impact an ongoing campaign of hostility between their parents will have on them. Research shows that family conflict, especially parental conflict, can adversely affect your children’s mental health, adjustment, success in school and future relationships, self-concept and self-esteem.

Two key questions to help reduce stress

More often than not, divorce is a grindingly slow process that can drag on for years before a final settlement is reached. The questions to ask yourself early and often in the process is, “what’s most important and worth fighting for and where am I willing to compromise?”

Resolving to settle your divorce with less hostility not only helps to reduce the cost, but it can also help you to move forward, and enable you to be more present for your children.

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