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September 18, 2023 Podcast

Navigating High Conflict Divorce: Expert Strategies with Bill Eddy

Navigating High Conflict Divorce: Expert Strategies with Bill Eddy
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In this episode, Jaime’s talking with Bill Eddy, therapist, lawyer, mediator, and co-founder of the High Conflict Institute. Discover the key differences between high-conflict divorces and typical divorces, common behaviors exhibited by high-conflict individuals, and effective strategies to protect yourself and your children during the divorce process. Gain valuable insights from Bill Eddy’s expertise in dealing with high-conflict personalities and learn how to navigate divorce without destruction. Tune in now and take the first step toward a peaceful resolution.

Need help from Bill? Contact him by visiting www.highconflictinstitute.com.

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Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.

Jaime: Welcome to A Year and a Day. I’m Jamie Davis, Board Certified Family Law Attorney at Gailor Hunt. On this show, I talk with lawyers, psychologists, and other experts with the goal of helping you navigate divorce without destruction. In this episode, I’m talking with Bill Eddy, therapist, lawyer, mediator, and expert in dealing with high conflict personalities. He is the Co-Founder and President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides training, consultations, and resources for dealing with high conflict people in legal, workplace, educational, and healthcare settings. Eddy is also the author of several books including Splitting, Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. BIFF, Quick Responses to High-conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email, and Social Media Meltdowns. and Five types of people who can ruin your life. Identifying and dealing with narcissists, sociopaths, and other high-conflict personalities. Thanks for joining me today, Bill.

Bill: My pleasure, Jamie. Glad to be on.

Jaime: So in my practice, I have discovered that many people think all divorces are a high conflict, but in reality, there seems to be this small subset of divorces that can truly be classified as high-conflict. What is a high-conflict divorce and how does that differ from a typical divorce?

Bill: Well, I’d say after all these years that it’s about 20% of divorces. and that they’re high conflict because the conflict keeps going and going and going or even escalating, sometimes into very dangerous territory. Most people, most divorces and most people resolve their conflicts. They work at it, takes a while, you get information, you work with your Lawyer. mental health professionals, financial advisors and then you work through the issues. And the case is really about issues. In high-conflict cases, it really seems to be about one or more high-conflict personalities. And let’s say it’s one person and that that person just doesn’t manage things well, that they’re preoccupied with blame and don’t look at themselves. They have a lot of all or nothing thinking. They may have unmanaged emotions that just take over. and at times extreme behavior. So you see domestic violence, you see lying, you see hiding money, you see hiding children. So for them, it’s a war and somehow it’s about who they are. rather than that it’s about the issues of a divorce and we can get through that and move on.

Jaime: What are some common behaviors and strategies used by high-conflict individuals during a divorce, and how can the other party protect themselves?

Bill: So because it’s a personality-based thing, in many ways… I’m not sure about using the word use, like that they consciously use the strategies they often are just reacting out of their personality. So they may be really trying to dominate the other person. And so they may make false allegations. They may be physically abusive. They may abuse the kids or manipulate the kids. They may alienate the kids. The biggest issues that we see are really personality-driven. And so domestic violence, substance abuse, alienation, child abuse of other forms, hiding information. You’ve got people covering up that they’ve got more money than they say they do. Or people saying, I’m not willing to work. I shouldn’t work. Someone else should support me and the kids. So it’s these extremes and they just keep reacting this way or promoting. these kinds of things. And they often are comfortable lying in court, which is one of the things that makes it so difficult for the professionals to figure out what’s really going on.

Jaime: Yeah, that’s a really great point. Um, in my experience, these are some of the toughest cases to deal with, frankly. Because there is no reasoning with the high conflict individual to get them to understand that. You can resolve your case and both of you can be okay, but dealing with these personality issues makes it very, very difficult.

Bill: Yeah, and a lot of times people get stuck on the issue. They go, well, it’s about this. And then they go scratching their head. Why is this issue have all this heat to it? And you realize that issue represents something for the person. It may be someone that that’s just really clinging to the marriage and can’t accept that it’s come to an end and that they can move on and do well in their life, but they’re clinging and often fighting about like the children. as a way to hold on to the other person. For other people, they’re holding on to power. They like dominating their partner or spouse and don’t want to lose having that handy person to dominate and push around. So It keeps coming back, I think, to personality and not understanding personalities.

Jaime: Yeah, and it seems to the a lot of times the high-conflict person just is not ready to let go of that connection that they have with their spouse that they would rather fight with them and keep the connection going rather than to resolve their issues and go their separate ways.

Bill: Yeah, and so that’s why we always, of course, encourage counselling to help people move forward and accept their parts of what went wrong and what aren’t there parts of what went wrong, what really wasn’t their fault, even if they were blamed by the other person. And also going through the grieving process because humans have this grieving process that we breathe and heal and can move on, rather than stopped in our tracks by remembering these different things. So what I wanted to say back to the beginning is to me, often high conflict cases are ones that go more than two years. And that when you see more than two years later, people having the same emotional reactions as if they just separated yesterday. That’s often where you’ve got your high conflict personalities.

Jaime: In your book Splitting, Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you provide strategies for dealing with a high-conflict partner during the divorce process. Can you share some of these strategies with our listeners?

Bill: Yeah, so the foundation of that book is what I call the assertive approach. Well, let’s back up. So high-conflict people are aggressive. And they may, let’s say aggressively make false allegations. Maybe they violent domestic violence. So it’s tempting to have an aggressive response back, go to court and say that person’s a piece of dirt and they’ve done everything wrong. And you don’t want to take that super aggressive approach, even though it’s understandable. On the other hand, some people take a passive approach. So they go to court and they go, the judge will figure this out and I’ll answer questions. And they don’t realize you have to be organized. You have to really make your case. And that’s the assertive approach. So the assertive approach doesn’t let them walk on you, but doesn’t try to destroy the other person like they may be trying to do. So you’re assertive. So when false allegations are made, you state what the truth is when they are bullying or, or whatever, is you still assert yourself in many ways with information. I think that’s what we do as lawyers in family law cases is keep providing information. So rather than making nasty comments, we say, your honor, this is what’s actually happening here. And courts respect that. They respect people that are giving them information, not a lot of mudslinging, which is what high-conflict people tend to do. And sad to say, sometimes they find lawyers that will do that for them. But fortunately, there’s reasonable lawyers who can help with an assertive approach. That’s what I see, is providing information, explaining patterns of behavior, focusing on key patterns of behavior. So I suggest in the book that you focus on three or four key patterns of behavior that are concerning that are relevant to the decisions to be made. If it’s financial, it could be hiding money. If it’s about the kids, it could be uncontrollable anger or misleading professionals and that you organize your information around that, because if you just give a smattering of twenty different things that are problems, none of them might be absorbed. So. repetition of three or four key themes I find is one of the most helpful approaches.

Jaime: I think that’s a great point. I mean, dealing with the high-conflict person is so extremely difficult when… All they want to do is sling mud and they love to make these sweeping generalizations about various things. And you really do have to do a good job about setting the record straight and combating those generalizations with very specific factual information.

Bill: Yeah, facts are your friends. People don’t realize that.

Jaime: Right. Absolutely.

Bill: Even in family court, facts matter.

Jaime: Right, absolutely, that’s so true. What advice do you have for parents going through a high-conflict divorce, particularly in terms of managing their children’s wellbeing?

Bill: Well, there’s several things. I think how they communicate is so important. And you mentioned our book, BIFF. And we actually have one now specific for co-parent. So it’s BIFF for Co-parent Communication with 28 examples that we put out during COVID. And It really helps you have more calm and peaceful communication, even if you’re getting blasted from the other side and texts and emails and whatever. So how you communicate really helps, protecting the children from the case, from the disputes. Kids shouldn’t even know if you’re going to court this week and they really don’t need to hear what you think about the other person. And you need to manage your emotions around the kids so that you’re not crying or yelling about the other person because the kids absorb emotions even more than works. And it makes them have negative emotions towards the other person. And you really that’s not going to help in the long run. So, I think managing written communication, managing emotions and listening to kids, not just telling them this, this, this, and this. Sometimes, people tell the kids too much, but listening to the kids, how are you doing? What are your concerns today? so that you’re where they’re at rather than assuming where they’re at. And kids need to feel that there’s open lines of communication and that they can say, I’m worried about this or I’m angry with you about that. That’s keeping lines of communication open. So that’s overall, I’d say good communication.

Jaime: So we’ve talked a little bit about your book, BIFF for Co-Parenting Communication. And I just want to say, I think it is a wonderful resource. I do some work as a parenting coordinator. I’ve read the book, I recommend it to my parenting coordinator clients. It’s very practical. The examples of the communications are great. And I just, I can’t recommend it enough.

Bill: RThank you. You know, we put a lot into that. I want to give credit to my co-authors with that, Annette Burns and Kevin Chafin, who contributed a lot. And once I want to add, Kevin came up with not just writing a good response, but if you get a hostile email, rewrite that email so it’s the BIFF format to see is there anything in here I even need to respond to. Maybe there’s a question. There’s 27 and says, and there’s one useful sentence so you go okay I’m going to answer that question.

Jaime: Yeah, and the whole method is, I mean, it’s counterintuitive to me, right? When someone is blasting your instinct is to you want to fight back, you want to fight fire with fire. But it really does diffuse the high conflict person if you just stick to the facts and keep it brief and friendly.

Bill: Yeah. It really works and it helps people feel good about what they’ve written.

Jaime: And from the Lawyer perspective, it gives us much better communications to present to the court than the hostile, angry response that you want to fire off.

Bill: Right, sometimes I say to people, which email do you want to be associated with when the judge reads these? And that they go, oops, okay. And people are more careful with that in mind.

Jaime: So what are some common mistakes that people make during a high conflict divorce and how can they avoid these mistakes?

Bill: I think people allowing themselves to react and to come out of their reactions. A lot of what happens makes people angry and it’s understandable. But you really want to manage where, who you allow yourself to share your anger with. And you really want to have friends that you can talk to and say, I’m so angry that this, this, and this happen. And your friend can go, oh wow, I totally understand because if you’re blasting your ex… or you’re angry at the kids because they want to spend this weekend with their friends at the other parent’s house. That’s going to be hurtful in the long run to your relationship. You really need to manage your anger. and not just react. So I think most problems come when people just react. And in many cases, your emotions really take you in the wrong direction. And you need to stop and think, just over and over again, stop and think, is this a good idea? Just like with BIFF, is it good to send this email or do I need to stop and think? So it’s really good if they can tell themselves, I got to run this by my lawyer and see if this is a good idea. I think of a case I had, the guy’s moving out. Got his new apartment and he’s going to have his three-year-old daughter over on the weekend. And I said, so you’ve got tell me the arrangements in your new apartments as well. Alright. I’m not, I don’t know how long I’m going to be there. So I’m not going to get a bed for her. She can just share my bed. And I’m thinking, no way. That’s going to be like the leading thing in the court hearing about how you’re abusing your daughter is that’s not going to work. You got to have a bed for her and get one before this weekend and promise me you’ll do that. So those are the kinds of things, people don’t think through. And they might, I mean, it’s totally innocent. But they didn’t think through that you can do innocent things that look really bad.

Jaime: Yeah, and one of the things that I always tell my clients, this should really be a business decision, right? When we’re dividing money and we’re deciding who’s going to get what, this should just be a business decision and you really just need to take the emotion out of it and try to use your logical brain to decide, is this a good deal for me or not?

Bill: Exactly, exactly. It’s a good way to approach it, and especially with parenting issues, the business of parenting that we’re business partners now. And let’s keep all the relationship stuff out of it.

Jaime: Absolutely. How can mediation be used effectively in a high-conflict divorce? And what are some of the pitfalls to avoid?

Bill: Mediation really is my strongest recommendation for divorce and it used to be high conflict cases. Well, they’ll just have to go to court. But, I developed with a Lawyer in Canada, a method we call new ways for mediation. That’s more structured than most mediations and that has tasks for people to do that really help, like you were suggesting Jamie is using your logical brain. And it really help in the mediation process. So if it can be structured more structured so that it doesn’t allow the emotional venting that that really takes things off track and makes worse decisions and makes people worse harder to work together. So mediation can be done if it’s well structured. and you have someone who is knowledgeable certainly about the law so they can say here’s the standards. You’ve got a lot of flexibility in mediation, but you need to know the standards so that you know what your options are. But I think it’s possible. With that said, and the book splitting and I talked about having a two track approach, that on the one hand, you try to settle your case, work hard at that. But on the other hand, always be prepared to go to court because there’s a good chance that could happen. So with mediation, some cases, some people mediation is a dead end and the other person just going to waste your time. negotiating because they’re not going to agree to anything. And I’ll say, use mediation, give it your best shot. But if it’s not going anywhere, don’t, don’t stay there. In many cases, you’re going to get a better decision and a faster decision by going to court, rather than negotiating for six months or a year with someone who’s really never going to agree to anything. So one or two sessions, it’s a dead end. There’s no progress. It’s clear there’s no interest from the other side, then go to court. Get a Lawyer and understand the case and go to court and you may be done much sooner than the endless negotiations.

Jaime: That’s very true. I mean, I’ve noticed that in my own practice, you’re in the mediation. And the other side just keeps moving the goalpost. And you try to come up with some creative solution that meets whatever their stated need is, and even that is not good enough. And then they just change it to something else. And then fairly quickly that this is just somebody who’s never going to agree to anything and a judge is just going to have to tell them the way it’s going to be. And it’s sad for your client who may not be high conflict. But in the long run, that’s going to certainly be more cost effective for them.

Bill: Exactly.

Jaime: How can someone recover and heal after a high conflict divorce, particularly if they were dealing with emotional abuse or trauma during the process?

Bill: I think having a therapist that understands can really help and having a support system. So it’s not just the therapist that you have people around you who can understand, give you some empathy, and let you be sad, and let you be angry and not tell you what to do or be rejecting, you’re too intense for me or something that you figure out how much you can do with home. I think it’s good to have more than one person. not just a Therapist. to talk through. and to let it take time. The grieving process, they say, has six, has five stages in it. And actually some people say six stages. So people start out with denial, it can’t be true. Then they go to anger. If it’s true, I’m going to fight this. And then bargaining. Well, what if I do this? What if I do that? Maybe the loss won’t happen. And then depression or sadness and feeling the pain of the loss. And ending up with acceptance. And so that can take a couple of years. And so having supportive people while you’re going through that. And it’s interesting, sometimes people stay stuck in anger and they don’t really grieve and heal until they get in touch with the sadness and can walk through that and share that with important people. Some people get stuck in sadness and until they get in touch with the anger, they can’t really move through the process. So it’s having people that can be helpful with this. Primarily a Therapist, but friends, family, relatives, people that care about you. And knowing you’re okay as a person. Yeah, you may have made some mistakes, maybe choosing that person to be married to was a mistake, but people make mistakes and people move on. So many people come out stronger after a divorce because they’ve learned more about themselves. and also about choosing partners. So, support, support all around, I guess. Oh, six stages of grieving and healing. Some people now say the sixth stage is really what you do in your life to contribute to other people. And that that’s something when someone dies someone has a adult child dies and it’s like how can I make my life have meaning by helping other people not experience drug overdoses, suicide, or whatever. So with any laws, it’s what can I do for other people, is maybe a sixth stage of the grieving process.

Jaime: That’s great advice. I think that people don’t fully appreciate what they are going to go through emotionally when they experience a divorce. And just like raising children, I think it really does take a village to get a divorce and you do need every bit of your support system that you can get, starting with the Therapist and then branching out, like you mentioned to friends and family. And one of the key things to remember as a person who may be a support person for someone going through a divorce is to check in with them and see, do they want comfort or do they want solutions and how can you best help them through that?

Bill: Very good advice.

Jaime: If you could only give one piece of advice to someone going through a divorce, what would that be?

Bill: Get a good support system. Especially with high-conflict divorce , they do take time. And you want people that can help you on the journey. And if you have a good support system, it will help you stay calm, and if you’re calm, you’ll make better decisions. So I think the one piece of advice is build a support system. Therapists, Lawyer, friends, family.

Jaime: If someone listening is interested in reaching out to you for help with their divorce, what is the best way for them to connect with you?

Bill: So our website, highconflictinstitute.com, has a ton of information. And I do consultations, I do a lot of consultations on divorces, high conflict divorce. On our website, they can click for consultation, or if they want to just email a question is to go to info info@highconflictinstitute.com. And also get access to me that way.

Jaime: Thank you again for joining us, Bill. And thank you for listening. If you liked this episode, be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss the next one. While this information is intended to provide you with general information to navigate Divorce Without Destruction, this podcast is not legal advice. This information is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have any questions before taking action, consult an attorney who is licensed in your state. If you are in need of assistance in North Carolina, contact us at Gailor Hunt by visiting divorceistough.com. I’m Jamie Davis, and I’ll talk with you next time on A Year and a Day.

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A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction' is a law podcast produced by Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC partner Jaime Davis. You can learn more about Jaime's experience and expertise on her bio page. If you have a question about the podcast, you can email Jaime at jdavis@divorceistough.com. Please note, the purpose of this podcast is not to give legal advice. This podcast is for general, informational purposes only and should not be used as legal advice. The information discussed in this podcast is specific to the laws in North Carolina. Before you take any legal action you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.
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Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and has become an expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He was the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center for 15 years, a Certified Family Law Specialist lawyer representing clients in family court for 15 years, and a licensed clinical social worker therapist with over 12 years of experience.

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