Low-Conflict vs. High-Conflict Divorce: Why Mediate?

You’d always wanted to go with your ex-husband to Hawaii–you asked year after year, but the answer was always the same. “Sorry, hon, there’s just not enough money for a trip like that. You know business is rough. Maybe next year.”

But next year and next year and many more next years came–and the money was just never there.

And then, as you’re trying to come to terms with his leaving you, just walking out with the woman he “courted” while married to you, you discover that your soon-to-be ex will taking his affair partner to Hawaii.

You’re on the phone with your lawyer within minutes.

“Make him pay through his nose in the divorce settlement. Take him for everything he’s worth.”

And thus begins your own version of  “War of the Roses,” fought through the courts, with the assistance of your lawyer.

But let’s take a step back from the Hawaii-horror, and look at marriage and divorce–and what keeps people in marriage, long after they believe they should go.

In a series on marriage and divorce starting with “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” I covered issues individuals face when they ponder divorce. And often the number one concern that parents have when they consider leaving a spouse is: Won’t this divorce damage my children?

I repeat some of my post Should I Stay or Should I Go?: High Conflict Marriages and Their Impact on Children #2–And the Research Says. . . here, although I encourage you to return to that entry if you’re still not sure if you’re doing hte right thing for your children by leaving a marriage filled with strife.

Recall from there that a research study published as ”Parental conflict and marital disruption: Do children benefit when high-conflict marriages are dissolved?” in the Journal of Marriage and the Family (August, 1999),  asserted that in intact marriages with a high degree of interparental conflict, “high levels of marital conflict are associated with . . . great. . . increases in children’s behavior problems. . .[Further,] the adverse effect of frequent marital quarrels is larger than the deleterious effect of separation and divorce.” [italics mine]

Pretty strong, huh? So you can’t claim that staying married and having a scream-fest night and day is of any help to your offspring. If you’re still in doubt on that topic I suggest you review several more studies I quote in that post, but I finish with Constance Gager, Associate Professor of Child and Family Studies at Montclair State University, who claimed in an interview that “[t]he basic implication is, ‘Don’t stay together for the sake of the children if you’re in a high conflict marriage.’”

The Blame Game (from fedupusa.org)

The Blame Game (from fedupusa.org)

Seems clear–high-conflict marriage is harming your children.

But the underlying assumption of these studies must be that divorce will reduce interparental conflict–not maintain, or even exacerbate it. [See ** below for the research indicating how poorly children do when the divorce process itself is high-conflict.]

If the level of fighting stays high and chronic throughout the process of divorce, you do, indeed, continue to subject your children undue stress, and the toll that takes upon them may only be fully realized  years later.

So–back to you and your Pacific-Island-Depriving ex. Correct, the SOB never took you to Hawaii, and you so badly would like to see him pay for his cheating ways–

–but you prolong the battle at a high price–to you, of course, but, crucially, to the very children you so fear damaging.

If  you truly want your children to do well with your separation with from your spouse–and want to divorce without continuing anger, emotional volatility, and revenge (okay, maybe you would like revenge, if truth be told, but you’ll have to put that behind you–or, if all else fails, wait for a better moment), well, the way I see it, you’ve got one path ahead of you: the path of mediation.

**Studies show that if conflict continues throughout the divorce process (and, of course, after the settlement, too) , children are put at risk.

Long, Slater, Forehand & Fauber published a 1988 article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology entitled “Continued High Or Reduced Interparental Conflict Following Divorce: Relation To Young Adolescent Adjustment.” There they discovered that children from divorced families where conflict continued unabated after the separation had lower grade point averages, more conduct disorders, and were rated by teachers as having more anxiety and withdrawal than children whose families had gone through low-conflict divorces.

You seek your revenge in court at the peril on your children.



I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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