Identifying Indicators of High-Conflict Divorce Among Parents

A Systematic Review


  • Premela Deck
  • Sarah Eisensmith
  • Brittany Skinner
  • Jacqueline Cafaro MAGAL



forensic social work, high-conflict divorce, high-conflict parents, high-conflict separation, systematic review


The burgeoning field of forensic social work supports clients engaged in the legal system. Forensic social work professionals working in family court will often be called upon to assess family dynamics, provide treatment to reduce maladaptation post-divorce, and advise divorcing parents as they navigate the complexities of court. Of particular interest to the forensic social work field are the various risks and protective factors that escalate or mitigate interparental conflict throughout the divorce process. Interparental conflict is a primary moderator accounting for psychological and physiological differences between children of divorced parents and children with intact parents. This systematic review examined the factors that contribute to conflict in divorcing parents and ways to identify high-conflict cases,. Peer-reviewed articles (n=11) were systematically selected using rigorous methods, including PRISMA-P protocols for systematic reviews and database searches using the search string “conflict AND divorce*.” Articles were extracted to identify themes of varying levels of conflict. There is no consistent definition of high conflict in pre-divorce parents, and recent articles offer new conceptualizations of this construct. All studies that met inclusion criteria for the review identified at least one of five themes of pre-divorce conflict: conflict resolution/communication, social network, parent characteristics, satisfaction with agreements, and pervasive mistrust.


*References marked by an asterisk reflect articles reviewed and included in this study.

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