Family Law & High Conflict

Family Law & High Conflict

Written by Bev Clark (Adelaide Family Lawyer)

When humans experience adversity – such as loss of a job or the breakdown of an important relationship – they will often suffer grief and loss, anxiety, depression, hurt, pain, betrayal and a myriad of other emotions. This is totally understandable in the circumstances.  Normally, they will recover and heal and move on with their lives. They are willing to make compromises to resolve differences and settle conflicts.

On the other hand, high conflict cases usually involve individuals who suffer from a personality disorder – the product of genetics, poor early childhood attachment, trauma, poor modelling or temperament – to name a few of the known roots of this problem.

For those folk, they struggle at the best of times to manage their emotions so it is no surprise that when faced with adversity such as that associated with a relationship breakdown, their behaviour can add to the conflict in the case.

When we are highly emotional, the part of our brain that controls rational thinking shuts down and the part of our brain designed to provide us with the ability to avoid danger – by flight or fight – kicks in.

People with personality disorders can display a lack of self-awareness. They are likely to have no insight into why they are the way they are – they are unlikely to have reflected on that at all. They will probably take no responsibility for their role in the conflict and have no awareness of the impact their behaviour has on others. They will be quick to blame everyone else or the system or some external force for their problems. We often hear perpetrators of family violence blaming their victims for the abuse! “ If she hadn’t answered back I wouldn’t have had to hit her”!

They will often see the world in a black and white, rigid thinking way. If you are in their good book they will be very supportive, but if you disagree with them or cross them ( in their perception) you will suddenly be in their bad books.

Family members often walk on eggshells to be able to co-exist with someone with this type of personality. This is a coping strategy to avoid conflict – but can reinforce the behaviour.

In family law, we often see high conflict clients – or have to assist clients to deal with their high conflict spouse – and although those matters often end up in litigation, it doesn’t have to go that way. There are processes that can assist and keep families out of Court even when one member of the family has a personality disorder. Collaborative family lawyers have a deep understanding of the emotional overlay and neuroscience involved in a conflict and they have strategies in place to recognise and deal with personality disorders.

In some cases, family lawyers will work closely with family relationship specialists to assist parties to deal with emotion and communication and to achieve outcomes that would not be possible without the expertise of the social sciences.

Family law is complex and layered. Family lawyers need to know more than just what the Family Law Act says. They must have a deep understanding of emotion and the dynamic that it, and personality disorders, play in the conflict.

Make a time to see one of the family lawyers at Belperio Clark by calling us on 8212 1322 or by emailing

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