Recognizing a Toxic Divorce

toxic divorcePIN IT!Everyone who talks to me daily knows my divorce to my ex, was a difficult and challenging one. Our divorce was extremely difficult and something I never saw coming. If you are considering divorce, here are some tips on recognizing and toxic divorce.

I get the question all the time about what is the difference between a bad divorce and a toxic one. My answer is usually this – “A Toxic Divorce is the Gift that Keeps on Giving.” Although the answer is somewhat comical and said lightheartedly, the statement is rooted in the perpetrator’s ability to keep the contention going long after the divorce is final.


Most divorces end the same way with each person involved, children included, feeling the pain of a severed familial unit. There are wounds that need to heal and healing takes some time. There may be feelings hurt badly enough that sometimes one or both parties lash out in ways that go beyond the normal boundaries of divorce. Typically, it does not take too long when one or both parties recognize that their actions bear no fruit so they stop their high conflict behavior and move on to lead new lives. Many times, if there are children involved, the divorced partners learn to co-parent together and they form a new healthier relationship.

The toxic divorce is an entirely different game. The first sign that a divorce is toxic is that the contention continues way beyond the actual divorce and can last for years. This happens because one of the partners can’t let the marriage go. The contentious person’s inability to move on with their own life is usually rooted in the need to control the situation and their former partner’s life. Don’t think they behave the way they do because they still love or want their ex back. In fact, they can remarry and still create chaos and drama in their ex’s life.

Toxic Signs

So, what are some of the things that would define a toxic divorce? One party may stop paying child support and/or alimony without a change in their financial circumstances. They may interfere with the other partner’s ability to work by sabotaging their job with libel or slanderous remarks about their ex. These smear campaigns are used to not only cause job losses but damage friendships so that the targeted person is isolated from a support system.

The most obvious sign of a toxic divorce is the use of parental alienation to hurt the targeted parent. What better way to destroy a contentious ex-spouse “get back at” or hurt a person than to either take their children away from them or have the children completely shun the targeted parent. All the offender needs is access to the child and the willingness to do it. It is the willingness of the parent to alienate the parent from his/her child that is rooted in the toxicity of the situation. A normal healthy parent, even one who hates their former partner, recognizes their child’s need and right to have both parents in their life.

Toxic divorces also find their way back into the courtroom well after the divorce is final. Issues like nonpayment of child support, violation of child visitation or custody, child negligence, and other non-compliant aspects of the divorce decree almost always require legal intervention which means more time in front of a judge.

And so, a toxic divorce goes long beyond when the final papers are signed and the divorcees have parted ways. The toxic divorce is an entirely different beast than its less contentious counterpart. When one party is unable to move on, the toxic divorce begins and can stick around for years to come.

Susan Shofer is a Divorce Consultant and founder of The Toxic Divorce. For more information visit her website,, and view her workbook called The Divorce Recovery Ladder.


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