High conflict divorce and family law cases
High-conflict cases arise in matters where one parent asserts a “right” to certain privileges without regard to the court orders, and usually that one parent is, or perhaps both are, seeking to control the other with entitlement attitudes. In some instances there may even be underlying psychological problems. They usually involve custody of the children and issues surrounding how custody is assigned, and how the parties participate in parent-time. A high conflict case does not have to be a divorce; it can be any family law case, such as a paternity matter, a custody matter, or a case seeking to change prior orders. High conflict
I am aware of only one Utah case that actually discusses what a high-conflict case is; R.B. v. L.B.1 The Utah Court of Appeals noted that the case
is and has evidently always been a high conflict case. Before the [divorce] decree, there were numerous hearings before the commissioner, objections to the recommendations of the commissioner, motions to reconsider the commissioner’s orders, motions for contempt, discovery disputes, motions for discovery sanctions, motions to compel, motions for Rule 11 sanctions, accusatory affidavits, allegations of abuse and child abuse, numerous temporary orders, motions to transfer jurisdiction to Kentucky, requests for communication with the Kentucky courts, disputes about a custody evaluation, a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from an order denying bifurcation, motions to disqualify counsel … disputes about GAL fee allocation, motions to strike pleadings as untimely, a motion for [a temporary restraining order] … alleging [Mother] was trying to get [Father] dismissed from his job … allegations by [Father] against the two female commissioners who have been assigned on this case of sexual discrimination against [Father], and changes of counsel.2
R..B. demonstrates what parties go through in a high-conflict matter. If your case has just some of the R.B. elements, then you could be involved in a high-conflict case.
Please understand that the motions mentioned and legal actions taken are not “wrong”. Affirmatively bringing the underlying facts to the attention of the court can be appropriate, such as when the facts support your position or your opponent is violating the rules of court. These kinds of motions are required when one side does not abide by the rules of court in a timely manner, files pleading late, or takes actions that are not in the best interests of the child. There are also times when commissioners make mistakes and a party has to take one, or more, issues to the judge.
If you are dealing with a high-conflict case, you need to prepare to affirmatively and legally protect your rights while holding your opponent accountable. Although you can attempt to use counsel or mediation in order to resolve any issues, those options may not be viable in a true high-conflict case — the other side will control the mediation and use it as a forum to assert his or her rights. Besides, the other side will ignore any agreements made. Your sole option then is to take the disputes to court.
When you take the disputes to the court, you need be sure that you have fully complied with all rules. In other words, you need “clean hands”. You will need to have the detailed evidence to support your claims fully. You want to make it as easy as possible for the commissioner or judge to understand the facts, and rule in your favor.
1 2014 UT App 270; 339 P.3d 137; 2014 Utah App. LEXIS 275; 773 Utah Adv. Rep. 14
2 339 P.3d at 140; ¶ 2.