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Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce

Timothy P. Flynn Sept. 8, 2023

high conflict divorceDivorces are stressful under nearly any circumstances; no one would disagree. Even so-called collaborative divorces have the potential to cause stress.

Our experience shows that high-conflict divorce proceedings correlate with minor children. Generally, divorces that consist chiefly of a property division, and that do not have the issues surrounding minor children, are not as emotionally difficult to prosecute.

Resolving parenting, custody and support issues can be emotionally difficult under the best of circumstances. When the parents, however, act like children, the going gets tough.

After concluding over 1000 divorces from start to finish, we have learned the characteristics of difficult divorces. There are several red flags that pop-up in high-conflict divorce actions. Here is a list of the usual suspects:

  • a criminal proceeding, a petition for a personal protection order, or both, are filed commensurate with the divorce filing;

  • one of the spouses has hired and fired multiple attorneys;

  • one or both spouses attempts to alienate the minor children from the other parent;

  • a parent is charged with abuse or neglect of their minor children;

  • a parent introduces the minor children to a paramour;

  • the parties go around their attorneys to reach out to court staff to air their grievances;

  • one of the parties files a grievance against an attorney associated with the case;

  • spouses are following each other around the marital home recording the other spouse;

  • police are called to mediate disputes on multiple occasions, sometimes resulting in the arrest of a spouse;

  • one or both parents utilize the children as liaisons or agents relative to the other parent;

  • one of the spouses tapes conversations with the minor child and the other parent;

  • the parties protract the divorce proceedings over many months, even years, allocating a significant portion of their precious marital estate to lawyers;

  • one or both spouses begin moving property from the marital home or otherwise conceal the property;

  • one spouse cancels vehicle or health insurance on the other spouse;

  •  one or both spouses adopt unreasonable positions throughout the proceeding, rejecting any form of compromise;

  • a spouse has a mental illness that flares up during the divorce proceedings, adding to the tension and causing delays and extra expenses associated with mental health treatment or a psychological evaluation; and

  • one or both spouses disobey or disregard the orders issued from the family court.

A recent high-conflict divorce from suburban New York contains many of the above markers and has garnered national media attention. The case, Allan Kassenoff -v- Catherine Kassenhoff, was exquisitely detailed in a well-drafted defamation lawsuit filed in federal court in Florida. Normally a state court action, this matter made it into federal court based on jurisdiction known as "diversity of citizenship", meaning all parties reside in different states.

Here is a link to the defamation complaint that contains the sordid high-conflict details of the protracted Kassenhoff divorce proceedings and the subsequent conduct of third parties leading to Allan Kassenoff's claim of foul play.

The facts of this case are among the most fantastic and unbelievable than any of the 1000 cases we have seen over here at Clarkston Legal. First,he Kassenoff divorce took over four years to complete. At one point, apparently due to her bizzarre and reprehensible conduct as a parent, Catherine lost custody of her three minor children. Subsequently, she claimed to have cancer and, because of that, committed suicide.

The case falls squarely within the category of "all bad". The Kassenoff divorce is Exhibit A for "high-conflict divorce".

Allan was a law partner in a New York City patent litigation firm. Ultimately, he lost his job with the firm in June, presumably due to the well-publicized discord surrounding his divorce proceeding.

Apparently, a "social influencer" took it upon himself to boost the discord by inviting his millions of followers to bombard Kassenoff's law firm, and the law firm of his divorce lawyer, with harrassing phone calls. Hence, the defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims filed this week in federal court.

So what can you and your lawyer do if faced with any of the high-conflict markers set forth above? Above all else: maintain a positive attitude and do not forget that, at some point, your divorce proceeding will conclude. Next, get prepared to weather the storm.

Weathering the storm will include making sure that you have all relevant documents that you or your lawyer will need to review and produce. These include the basics: bank statements, retirement account statements, your children's medical and academic records, closing documents from a recent home purchase or refinance transaction.

Next, do not take the bait. That right: if your spouse adopts an unreasonable position, especially relative to your minor children, keep your cool and realize that he or she is not driving the bus. Other industry professionals, including your lawyer, will be able to articulate your -hopefully reasonable- position when the appropriate time arises.

If at all possible, try not to switch lawyers. Sticking with the same lawyer from start to finish is a huge advantage in most cases. Hopefully, you have taken the time to research and vet your lawyer and his or her law firm.

When tensions reach a boiling point with your divorcing spouse, do not engage but rather, remove your self physically from the immediate environment. If you are at a public place, leave. If you are at home, take a walk or a drive.

Unless you are being physically attacked, do not call the police or CPS. Often times, a spouse overreacts and calls police prematurely. This can lead to a cheap domestic violence criminal charge which will infect your divorce proceeding.

Although dealing with your children is often emotional, try sticking to the facts surrounding a custody determination. Be open-minded and flexible when fashioning a parenting schedule. If your spouse is irrational on such topics, stick to your lawyers advice and let the industry professionals aid in the resolution of such hot topics.

Although you cannot control your spouse's conduct, you can control your own conduct. Above all else, do not lose site of the value of taking a reasonable position. And do not forget that your divorce litigation will not last forever; it may seem like it at points, but it will come to an eventual close.

If you are considering divorce and fear that your case may be of a high-conflict nature, contact our law firm to discuss your options at a free consultation.