As divorce lawyers we are very often confronted with clients who claim their spouse is a “narcissist”. Our first question is always, “When was your spouse diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder?”
They usually fall silent.
“Well,” they say, “that’s the problem. Because he’s a narcissist he refuses to see a therapist or doctor. He thinks everyone else is the problem — not him.”
These clients are often self-taught about narcissism, or have been informed by their own therapist (who has never met or evaluated their spouse) that the spouse shows signs of narcissism. They have consumed books, listened to podcasts, and subscribed to blogs or online chat groups focused on the disorder. They also expect their divorce attorney to be well-educated and impervious to narcissistic manipulation.
As the co-dependent spouse of an allegedly narcissistic partner, they are fed up with being a constant source of energy supply. They want to ensure their own attorney does not fall victim to the powerful manipulation that has ensnared them in a toxic relationship.
While we sympathize greatly with these clients, we are often the bearers of bad news. The court doesn’t care if your spouse is a narcissist. Rather, the court will assume you just hate each other. Meanwhile, narcissists can still have custody and placement of their children, and they are entitled to all the financial rights of a non-narcissistic person.
A court will only slightly perk its ears if a party can prove three things. They must prove the other spouse (a) has been diagnosed with NPD by a medical professional, (b) the spouse has refused treatment for the disorder, AND (c) the disorder and refusal to treat it have negatively impacted the narcissist’s ability to remain employed or to parent their children. Short of proving those specific allegations, a court will quickly shut down any arguments premised on the alleged “narcissism” of the other party.
In most cases where narcissism is alleged, it isn’t diagnosed. Rather, it is strongly suspected. The court distinguishes displaying narcissistic traits from having a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
In family court, narcissism is NOT:
While these traits may indicate narcissistic tendencies, courts do not punish litigants for their personality traits — no matter how repugnant. When parties’ personality clashes lead to divorce, the court might impose orders to help mitigate the effect of their polar-opposite approaches to the litigation. They can order mediation or arbitration to avoid excessive litigation in court. They can also order parties with children to attend co-parent counseling, or order them to solely communicate through a monitored communication app.
If you have children together and there are serious concerns that your co-parent has a personality disorder that affects their parenting, it is possible the court will order both parties to undergo psychological evaluations. A Guardian ad Litem or custody evaluator will use these results to make recommendations regarding custody and placement.
When you have a spouse with narcissistic tendencies, sometimes the best advice is the hardest to hear. If they won’t seek diagnosis or treatment, you can’t make them. However, you can seek help for yourself by (for example) attending therapy so that you can better learn how to communicate with, respond to, and react to a toxic ex-spouse.
For more insights on what to expect during a divorce with a toxic partner, call for a confidential consultation.
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