November 30th, 2022
Going through a divorce is never easy — but it can be even more challenging when your former spouse has a narcissistic personality. Narcissists often seek to “win-at-all-costs” during divorce proceedings, regardless of the pain and expense inflicted upon their spouse. If you’re divorcing a narcissist, you can likely expect lengthy litigation, difficulty reaching a settlement, and a high-conflict divorce. However, the legal system has certain tools to help move your case along and address a spouse’s failure to cooperate.
What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a mental health condition in which people have an unreasonably high sense of their own importance.” Traits of this disorder can include lack of empathy for others, the excessive need for attention, and the inability to care about others’ feelings. While narcissists have a grandiose image of themselves, a sense of entitlement, and difficulty accepting criticism, they are also deeply insecure.
It is common for those with narcissistic personality disorder to have problems with relationships, at work, or with financial matters. They can be manipulative and take advantage of others to achieve their objectives. In addition, they may behave in an arrogant manner and become angry if they don’t receive special treatment. These traits can all have a substantial impact on how the divorce process plays out. And there are varying degrees of this disorder, as well. They can appear as very charming, reasonable people at the outset and therefore not always be obvious to the professionals.
Having a formal diagnosis is not necessary to know if your spouse has a narcissist type personality. Ask yourself some these questions:
- Does my spouse consider my input when making a decision or is it more“my way or the highway”?
- When you have asked your spouse for help with things, do they dismiss your request as being an imposition or outright refusal?
- How “in control” of situations do they like to be?
- Do they have flexible thinking and the ability to understand situations from more than one perspective?
- Do they seek help from professionals but dismiss their expertise as being stupid or they know better than that person, especially if it doesn’t align with their desires?
- Do you find yourself trying to appease your spouse and avoid conflict because of how they make you feel or you have shut down or withdrawn?
How is Divorcing a Narcissist Different from Other Divorces?
Divorcing a narcissist is typically much more challenging than other divorces. During the divorce proceedings, a narcissistic personality is likely to blame their spouse for the marital problems. They may also try to resist mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution to settle the divorce and engage in gaslighting and other forms of manipulation during the divorce process. Or they may be very drawn to mediation because they see it as a place in which they can control the outcome and their spouse.
Although a narcissist may subject their spouse to physical, emotional, verbal, financial, and psychological abuse during the marriage, they will likely purport themselves to be the victim in divorce. While there are numerous challenges you may face when divorcing a narcissist, here are some of the most common ones:
- Hiding assets and property — Narcissists disregard what is fair and may attempt to conceal their income, set up secret accounts to hide money, or transfer ownership of assets and property during divorce.
- Child custody matters — While courts must consider the best interests of a child when it comes to custody, a narcissist will only consider their own self-interests. They may attempt to alienate the affections of their children and tell blatant lies in order to get the results they want. For instance, a narcissist may make false allegations of abuse or negligent parenting.
- High-conflict communication — Divorce with a narcissist is often contentious and it’s best to avoid communicating with them directly. Instead, only communicate through your attorneys. With child custody matters, it may be best to communicate through an app that documents what is said.
- Stall tactics — Narcissists may try to use stall tactics in litigation to maintain a position of power. They may fail to provide documents, drag out litigation, and refuse to settle on the critical matters that must be determined in divorce.
Fortunately, the legal system offers a variety of tools during the divorce process that can help move a case along. Discovery tools such as depositions, interrogatories, and document demands can be used to obtain the information needed in your case to determine things like property division and alimony. These legal mechanisms can also be used for child custody and support matters. When a spouse refuses to comply with a court order, it may be necessary to subpoena documents — or a motion for contempt of court may be filed if a spouse failed to comply with an order issued by the judge.
Strategies for Divorcing a Narcissist
One of the most crucial things you can do when divorcing a narcissist is document everything. Be sure to keep detailed records of every conversation and keep text messages, emails, and other written communication. Document the dates and times that any conversations occurred and note whether there were any witnesses. It’s also a good idea to keep logs of the time you spent with your children and make note of any time your spouse denied you access to them, if you are not the custodial parent. In addition, note any time your spouse missed an event or visitation time.
When divorcing a narcissistic spouse, it’s particularly important to keep copies of all financial documents and expenditures. Don’t take your spouse’s word for anything — obtain any business valuations, real estate appraisals, and property appraisals that can establish the value of marital property. Judges regard appraisals and valuations as reliable forms of evidence to determine the fair market value of a property for the purposes of dividing the asset.
Significantly, do not allow yourself to become emotional or engaged in an argument with a narcissistic spouse. Remain calm and do not react or respond to their behavior. Narcissists thrive on conflict, and they will try to trap you into an argument to use it against you during the divorce proceedings.
Is Collaborative or Mediation a Good Option?
It is not uncommon for a spouse of a narcissist type personality to want to do an out-of-court resolution option for divorce. They want to keep the peace and not upset their spouse and think that doing a “nicer process” will yield better results. If you answered yes to the questions above or the description seems spot on, it may not be in your interest to try and resolve things in mediation or the Collaborative process. When a divorce involves these types of personalities, they are the most likely divorces to not reach resolution in an out-of-court process, especially if the spouse thinks they don’t need an attorney. Deadlines, orders from a judge to comply with requests, and other mechanisms and rules available in the traditional court process may be the better option for you. Flexible thinking and the ability to see things from multiple perspectives and having empathy are key traits needed to reach agreements out of court. Be honest with any attorney you talk to about whether your spouse shows these characteristics.
Contact an Experienced Minnesota Divorce Attorney
Divorcing a narcissist can be a challenge, but with the right attorney by your side, you can ensure the best possible outcome will be reached in your case. Divorce and family law attorney Louise Livesay has been committed to helping clients in the Twin Cities area resolve complex divorce matters peacefully and respectfully for more than two decades. And she can help you assess whether the traditional court process is a better avenue for you and refer you to an attorney who may be a better fit, if there are concerns about your spouse’s ability to resolve issues out of court. We welcome you to contact us online for a consultation or by calling 651-294-2338.