Divorcing a Narcissist: A Lawyer’s Perspective
When couples decide to divorce, they must acknowledge the inherent costs of splitting up a family. Not only will they be dividing a household in two, and dividing their income, but they have to account for the costs of actual litigation. Attorney's fees, court costs, and expert witnesses all cost time, money and emotional capital. Avoiding a full trial is best for all involved. But sometimes, in a small number of cases, this cannot be avoided – particularly if you are divorcing a narcissist. Here is a list of tips to reduce conflict if you find yourself trying to dissolve a marriage with a narcissist.
- Ensure you understand what a narcissist is.
Narcissists are unable to feel any empathy and lack accountability. They often play the victim and are consistently only concerned with how a situation is going to affect themselves. They believe that they are special, and often fantasize (or insist) that they are successful, powerful and wealthy. They often take advantage of others to their own advantage. One classic case is if you catch them cheating, then they will not only refuse to apologize but will insist it is your fault that they cheated on you. If this sounds like your spouse, then chances are, you will be divorcing a narcissist.
- Understand this is a game, and they will always try to ‘win.’
When divorcing a narcissist, remember that their goal is not to ensure an equitable division of property, or that the best interest of the children is safeguarded. Their interest is to ‘win,’ and prove themselves right – even at the expense of the truth or reality. Be prepared to go up against a person who will distort facts and bend the truth to benefit their position. They will sling mud whenever possible, and try to make you look bad no matter what. In family law cases, there are never any winners, but your spouse will attempt to ‘win’ whatever he or she thinks is the ultimate prize. Believe it or not, sometimes that can be something non-existent, like proving to the judge that you were an adulterer, even if it never happened. Reality and rationality are not something you should be expecting when divorcing a narcissist.
- Prepare for battle
Knowing that your spouse will make everything difficult, the best thing for you to do is hire a family lawyer with experience in dealing with narcissists. Attorneys with experience dealing with these personality types will be your best line of defense if you are divorcing a narcissist. They will understand how vital it is to preserve evidence, getting in early with discovery requests. They might attempt to depose your spouse so that they can be better prepared for how he or she will act as a witness before trial. If the case is a contested custody matter, the attorney might consider hiring a third-party attorney representing the child’s best interest. This third-party will be a neutral observer who will be able to form their own opinion about each party’s parenting skills. Of course, this might mean that your attorney’s fees and expenses are higher – but when divorcing a narcissist, you can bet on your legal fees being expensive anyway. By hiring a smart, experienced attorney early on, you mitigate the damage and prevent legal fees from spiraling out of control later on.
- Get ready for the divorce before you file the paperwork
Narcissists thrive on conflict and keeping the other party off balance. They will demonstrate vast and quick changes in personality. Obstruction is their goal. Therefore, do not be surprised if your spouse refuses to turn over financial documents or information, will not listen to their own lawyer, or even defies court orders during the case. Therefore, before divorcing a narcissist, try to have as much independent as possible before filing the paperwork. Have a significant nest egg to ensure you can pay for a lawyer and support yourself and children. Check to see that you have good credit in the event you need to take out a loan. Make copies of all the financial documents you will need, like tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements and retirement statements. Do not keep this in a location where your spouse has access. Give them to a family member you trust or store them in a separate safety deposit box that only you have access to.
- Stay aloof and communicate with your spouse in writing
It is so easy to lose your cool when divorcing a narcissist. Your spouse is an expert manipulator, and after years of marriage, no doubt knows exactly which buttons to push to set you off. This is a trap! Try to avoid speaking to them on the phone. Do not leave angry voicemails or send snarky texts. Even if feel that you are justified in your manner of response and the content of your remarks, this will all be used to make you look bad in court. Therefore, the best way of dealing with a narcissist is to simply respond to your spouse in writing – after you have had a chance to cool down. Ask your attorney or a good friend if you can call them when you are tempted to respond angrily. If you have children and not communicating with your spouse is simply not an option, there are digital platforms that you and your spouse can use to coordinate. Usually, these platforms have a messaging app, calendars, and portals to exchange photos and information about the children. Third-parties can gain access to these platforms, including the family law judge. This will hopefully reduce conflict (and the temptation to respond angrily), knowing that a third-party is able to monitor all exchanges between the parties.