A key part of any family court proceeding is helping the judge understand your day-to-day life. When that life has included dealing with a narcissist, it can be especially difficult to get beyond their put-together outward appearance and help the judge see their real behavior. Here are some tips for how to deal with a narcissist in a divorce or custody case.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health issue that affects the way a person sees themself and others around them. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines narcissism as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), a need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.” Narcissism is more common in men than women. It affects approximately 6.2% of the population (including 7.7% of men and 4.8% of women).
Narcissistic behavior can be especially difficult in court because many narcissists are savvy manipulators, and not many people know exactly how to deal with a narcissist. They often appear calm, suave, put together, and successful. They have decades of experience convincing people that they are right and that you are the crazy one. If they feel their power or control being threatened (like when you file for divorce) they will often proactively recruit friends and family members to their side, leaving you feeling isolated and alone when you need support the most.
If you are escaping a narcissistic relationship, the key will be to show the court (and your support team) the truth behind the mask. That will likely include testifying about some of your worst moments confronting this extremely high-conflict personality.
Narcissists love to argue and get you to acknowledge that they are right. You will never win an argument with a narcissist. Fighting will only give them fuel for their claims that you are emotionally unstable.
Cut the narcissist off. Unless you need to communicate about shared children, do not engage with them at all. Rely on your lawyer for all communication. If you must communicate (such as arranging parenting time exchanges), do so in writing and stick to facts rather than arguing.
Your narcissistic partner will not hesitate to use your children as a bargaining chip. They don’t and may not care how their actions are affecting your children. Do what you can to protect your kids from being put in the middle of your custody dispute. Promise to always tell them the truth and invite them to come to you with anything your partner says about you, no matter how negative.
When you are divorcing a narcissist, it is often a good idea to get your children a therapist they can talk to about the process, and about both parents. Find a therapist with experience dealing with narcissism and tell them ahead of time about your partner’s behavior. The therapist can help you and your children address the problems that arise during and after the custody battle.
Most family lawyers encourage couples to mediate or resolve their issues without going to court. But this won’t work in a narcissistic relationship. Narcissists have an all-or-nothing perspective. They will always go for the “win” even on issues that aren’t important to them. That makes mediation difficult. If you are ordered to mediate, be prepared. Know what your must-have issues are and draw a hard line. If mediation doesn’t work, you will likely have more success in court.
A narcissist thrives on your confusion and self-doubt. If they can trap you in a “lie,” they will. If you are going up against a narcissist in court, it is essential that you start documenting everything now. Keep records, bank statements, invoices, photos and videos. Create calendars and journals to remind yourself of what happened when. Download your text messages and chat logs. Gather as much evidence as you can to show yourself, your lawyer, and the judge what it’s like living with a narcissist.
Narcissism is gaining visibility, but many people, including many judges, still don’t know what it means, or how it can affect what they see in the courtroom. You and your divorce attorney should be prepared to explain to the judge what narcissistic personality disorder is and how it affects relationships and behaviors. You may need to hire an expert to testify on your behalf about the disorder. Don’t be afraid to use every tool at your disposal. Your partner certainly will hold nothing back.
Leaving a narcissistic relationship is exceptionally difficult. Doing it alone is almost impossible. At ADZ Law, LLP, our divorce attorneys understand NPD and how hard it can be to escape narcissistic abuse. We help the victims of domestic violence to leave their abusive partners and stand beside them throughout the court proceedings. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about our team, and how we can help you break free from the narcissist in your life.