I Was Sucker-Punched By My Abusive Husband During Our High-Conflict Divorce

If you’re unhappily married, you need to know what a high-conflict divorce is.

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"You should put aside some money," said my friend.

"No," I said. "That’s unethical."

"You should be prepared," she said.

"It will be fine," I said.

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I didn't believe the guy I met when I was nineteen at a Catholic college in Scranton, Pennsylvania would ever harm me this way.

I didn’t think I needed to have a plan in case I chose to divorce him. I believed we were both still committed to our marriage despite our problems.


I thought if we ultimately divorced, he would be fair.

But I was horrifically wrong.

I had heard of ugly divorces but I didn’t know what the term high-conflict divorce meant.

It’s complicated but I will start with a few parameters.

There isn’t an official legal definition for the term high-conflict divorce. But it is generally explained as a divorce that lasts two or more years in duration and is highly contentious. 

This type of divorce involves the exhausting abuse of one or more spouses who engage in bullying, accusations, blame, manipulation, and other extremely difficult behaviors. 

High-conflict divorce is overly long in duration because one or more spouses either refuse to or are incapable of negotiation and are unwilling to agree upon the terms of the divorce.


This leads to either passive-aggressively ignoring aspects of the divorce legal process or extending the divorce by over-litigating.

High-conflict divorce can result in an abuse of spousal and/or parental power.

A spouse who controls the money could be financially abusive and hide income from the other spouse. They will inflict severe financial bullying to gain the result they desire in a divorce.

Likewise, one or both parents could abuse their parental power by lying and/or manipulating the children to get their desired outcome.

High-conflict divorce is brutally unfair to a spouse but especially to the children.

No child deserves to experience a ruthless battle between adults that extends for years.


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The statistic varies but high-conflict divorce is said to account for between 10% to 30% of divorces. The typically agreed-upon meet-in-the-middle number for high-conflict divorce is approximately 20% of all divorces.

Don’t allow this number to fool you.

Don’t rely on the law of averages.

Because if you fall into that 20% you will experience brutality and abuse that’s difficult to endure.

Likewise, if you suspect you may experience a high-conflict divorce you need a lawyer who is specialized in high-conflict divorce.

If approximately 80% of divorce is not high-conflict, this drives home the need to find the 20% of the family law profession that is highly specialized in this contentious and abusive high-conflict divorce arena.


How do you know if your spouse could lead to a high-conflict divorce?

The personality of your spouse is your greatest clue.

If you are divorcing any type of extreme personality, such as an individual with a personality disorder like narcissism, you can expect the probability of a high-conflict divorce. If you are divorcing someone with substance abuse you have a probability of a high-conflict divorce.

If you are divorcing any type of individual who is extremely difficult it will increase the chances of a high-conflict divorce. It doesn’t have to involve a mental health disorder or a substance abuse issue.

It could be someone who is unrelentingly controlling, manipulative, deceitful, selfish, spoiled, or immature.


If you are married to someone who has no ability to negotiate, compromise or resolve conflict this will increase the likelihood of a high-conflict divorce.

RELATED: 14 Signs You're A High-Conflict Personality (And The Problem Is You)

It’s not uncommon for the same issues that played out in the marriage to play out in the divorce.

If you are divorcing a punishing and retaliatory personality they will extend this behavior into a divorce.

If you are divorcing a spoiled and selfish personality this behavior will extend into a divorce.

If a spouse is bitter over past marital issues and can’t get over it, this will likely extend into a divorce.

If you have made yourself financially vulnerable by becoming a stay-at-home mother or father, or one spouse has control of all of your joint money, you have made yourself more susceptible to high-conflict divorce. The spouse who controls the money has the power and can play games, bully and hide it from you.


I knew I was divorcing a diagnosed narcissist.

I didn’t understand what that meant.

I thought I was freeing myself. I didn’t understand I was setting myself up for extreme emotional and financial abuse and an overly long five-year divorce.

I’m glad I left. I would do it again. But I attempt to warn others about the severe abuse of high-conflict divorce.

If you believe you are married to an extreme personality you should be prepared for a divorce.

You should have a solid plan and a divorce lawyer who is an expert in high-conflict divorce.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help.

There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling with domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.


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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a national relationship columnist, journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, life, relationships, family, parenting, divorce, and narcissism.