Q&A with Esther Rosenfeld


How long have you been practicing family law?

I started working exclusively in family law in 2001, so nearly 20 years. My philosophy is that most divorce cases should be resolved by negotiated settlement, but the timeline is different for everybody. I encourage clients to move at the right pace for them, hopefully as efficiently as possible in a manner that allows them to keep their dignity intact and gives them the opportunity to move on with their lives.


How did you become a part of the research team that produced the study at Santa Clara?

Michelle Oberman, the professor at Santa Clara School of Law who was leading the research project reached out to me. Given my experience in family law and my approach in emphasizing collaborative problem-solving, it was a natural fit for me to research the underlying problems with these high-conflict cases.


How much did you know about high-conflict personalities and Narcissist Personality Disorder before you conducted the study?

Based on my experiences, I had an understanding of these personalities and the toll they can take in family law cases and in the courtroom. However, after interviewing judges and other family law experts, I gained an increased understanding of how widespread this problem is and how little has been done to meaningfully address it within the court system.


What finding related to high-conflict personalities surprised you the most?

I was surprised to see how little research has been done on this problem. While numerous experts have studied high-conflict personalities and specifically individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, there hasn’t been much research into how these disorders play a role in family court. Not only are the adults affected, but the children are put squarely in the middle of these high-conflict situations, leading to both short and long term repercussions which can take a lifetime to undo.


What is your biggest concern about leaving these high-conflict personalities unchecked in the family court system?

I recently wrote an op-ed that ran in the San Jose Mercury News that addresses this very issue. With the pandemic and the resulting court backlogs, I’m concerned that high conflict personalities may find it easier than ever to manipulate cases. As the study suggests, increased education for lawyers and judges may alleviate some problems simply be raising awareness and providing tools for de-escalating high conflict situations.