Managing High Conflict People in Court

book cover managing high conflict people in court by bill eddy


© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, ESQ  


Make Sure You Have Realistic Expectations

In Court, the judge or jury will never really know what is going on in your case. The Court’s job is to decide narrow legal issues based on limited permissible evidence. Hearings and trials are mostly short and to the point. In real life, Court is not like most court cases on television or the movies – or even the news. Trials are rare, as most cases are resolved by hearings and/or settlement by agreement of the parties – often with the help of knowledgeable attorneys.

Do Not Expect Validation or Vindication

The judge or jury does not decide your character as a person – or who has been “all good” or “all bad.” In Court, it is often assumed that both parties have contributed to the problem, and that it is a matter of relative liability for whatever occurred. Today, many courts focus on problem-solving. Interpersonal complaints are often seen as “he said, she said,” and the courts much prefer that these disputes be settled out of court.

Avoid Emotional Reasoning

When people are upset, our perceptions can be distorted temporarily or permanently. Our emotions may cause us to jump to conclusions, view things as “all or nothing,” take innocent things personally, fill in “facts” that are not really true, unknowingly project our own behavior onto others, and unconsciously “split” people into absolute enemies and unrealistic allies. This happens at times to everyone, so check out your perceptions with others to make sure they have not been distorted by the emotional trauma of the dispute and related events. Many cases get stuck in court for years fighting over who was lying, when instead it was emotional reasoning which could have been avoided from the start.

Provide The Court With Useful Information

The judge or jury does not know you or your issues, except for the information that is properly submitted to the court. Make sure to provide important information, even if it is embarrassing. The court cannot sense the behavior of each party. If you feel you have been abused by another person, the court needs sufficient information to make helpful decisions. If you hold back on important information, it may appear that abusive incidents never occurred and that you are exaggerating or making knowingly false statements. If you are accused of actions you did not take, the court will not know this information is inaccurate or false unless you sufficiently inform the court.

Be Careful About Un-verifiable Information

The accuracy of the information you provide to the court is very important. Based solely on what you say in declarations or testimony in court, the judge or jury may make very serious orders regarding the other party, yourself, and your finances. If it later turns out that you made false or reckless statements — even if you were well-intentioned — there may be negative consequences, such as sanctions (financial penalties) or other restrictions in your future actions. A legal history may be a liability in future employment, relationships and court cases.

Try To Settle Out-Of-Court

Today there are many alternatives to going to court which can be used at any time in your case, including Mediation, Collaborative Law, Arbitration, negotiated agreements with attorneys, and settlement conferences assisted by a settlement judge. The expense for each of these is much less than for court hearings, trials, and prolonged disputes. You have nothing to lose, and you can still go to court afterwards if you do not reach a full agreement. By trying an out-of-court settlement, you can limit animosity and protect yourself and your family from the tension and cost of several months or years in court battles.


Bill Eddy headshot

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 is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high-conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic, developed methods for managing high-conflict disputes, and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries. He is also co-host of the popular podcast, It’s All Your Fault, and writes a popular blog on Psychology Today.

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