“We are keeping it civil for the kids.”
“We’re going to stay friends.”
“I want the best for her.”
If you’ve gone through a divorce yourself, or if you know someone who has, you might have said or heard these phrases. Many people do have the intention for a low-conflict, civil proceeding. However, the stress of divorce means that the deck is stacked against you.
The Stress of Divorce
The stress of divorce can be broken down into two categories: known stress and unknown stress. Known stressors include having to pay attorney bills, having fewer resources to live on, and the reality of shared custody. Unknown stressors include how the divorce will affect children, how well one will cope with the challenges, and how to make ends meet in the future (Psychology Today, Where Are You on the Divorce Stress Scale? 2012).
At the center of these unknowns is the house. Who will keep it? What will it sell for—if it sells in a reasonable amount of time? How will repairs, showings, and staging be handled?
Understanding the House and Divorce
To better understand the way conflict interacts with a home sale in a divorce, my mentor, Laurel Starks (Founder of The Ilumni Institute) developed a Conflict Spectrum that is used to categorize the level of conflict in a given divorce. Part of the training I received for a Certified Divorce Real Estate certification is based on understanding how to reduce and work around conflict, so if you’re going through the stress of divorce, a certified expert is your best bet for a good resolution.
The Conflict Spectrum
If you’re going through the stress of divorce, consider the following criteria. How does it fit for your divorce? Are you facing a low, medium, or high conflict divorce?
Low Conflict divorces are those that demonstrate little animosity. There are usually not lawyers involved, and the majority of issues are resolved fairly easily. Neither side is looking hard for points of leverage, and both are looking to advance the process to facilitate moving to the next level. The sale of the house should proceed smoothly.
Medium Conflict divorces have some sparks flying. Lawyers are usually involved, and neither side is willing to concede anything without receiving something even more important in return. The house can become a battleground, both for emotional and financial reasons. A highly trained agent is needed to navigate these waters.
High Conflict divorces are wildfires. The majority of communication occurs through attorneys, and it’s likely better that way. There are more likely to be restraining orders, substance abuse issues and personality disorders. The house is a pawn in a bigger game of suffering creation.
Selling the house is demonstrably more difficult the higher the conflict. Once there are lawyers involved, it’s best to have a trained real estate agent handle the sale. Untrained agents tend to be unprepared for the weight of challenges that come from divorce-level conflict.
Variables that Increase Conflict
If you’re trying to put your finger on why your divorce has more or less conflict, here are some specific challenges that can increase the conflict of a divorce. Each requires substantial understanding to work through.
Negative Futures: One or both sides are concerned with their future and what it will look like without the marriage and the shared house. This can include the stress of divorce that comes from personal feelings or the assumed (or actual!) judgement of others.
Past Pains: Unresolved anger about circumstances that led to the divorce can cause personal or interpersonal conflict.
Personality Issues: Personality disorders can emerge, especially under stress, leading to people acting much differently than they did under normal circumstances. In some cases, mental illness can be involved, making direct negotiation and communication basically impossible.
Finances: The financial stress of needing to run two households, with the very likely reduction in standard of living, can cause high levels of conflict.
Children: Control over and custody of children, in the midst of selling the family home, can ramp up the conflict, especially if custody arrangements aren’t made yet.
The Conflict Spectrum captures the level of conflict at a given point in time. Many divorces ramp up in conflict as more difficult decisions are made; few become less combative over time. To avoid the house becoming yet another weapon in the battle between divorcing clients, seek a divorce real estate expert to move through the stress of divorce and seek a resolution. The average agent is unprepared to walk into the maelstrom of divorce real estate. As the conflict gets higher, skill and training in divorce become more and more important.