Divorcing a narcissist can be an incredibly challenging and emotionally draining experience.
I am a divorce and family law solicitor with over 25 years’ experience. Over this period, I have seen many things and acted for or against many different types of people. This blog is to offer you some general advice and common themes that that may help, to include coercive control and financial abuse.
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition in which people have an unreasonably heightened sense of their own importance. They need attention and admiration but may also lack the ability to understand or care about the feelings of others.
A narcissistic personality disorder will naturally cause problems in everyday life such as relationships, work and finances. But behind this mask, they are not sure of their own self worth and may be upset at the slightest criticism.
Common signs of narcissism are:
• A sense of entitlement
• Manipulative behaviour
• A need for admiration
• Lack of empathy
This may help you in terms of identifying narcissistic traits in relationships.
Financial abuse and coercive control
Coercive control may include psychological, financial and emotional manipulation of one spouse by another. It is also a criminal offence.
Financial abuse is part of coercive control. It involves a patten of controlling, threatening and degrading behaviours relating to money and finances. This is a common tactic by abusers to gain control in a relationship.
Even when that relationship end, the abuse may well continue. In a financial case this could be stopping maintenance payments, reducing your access to bank accounts, or concealing assets.
You have legal rights, and a divorce solicitor can explain them to you. For example, one option is to consider a financial application to court for disclosure and/or interim maintenance.
Be aware of tech abuse as well, where the narcissist or abuser is monitoring your devices, compute, phone etc..
The first step is to find a family law solicitor who has experience in dealing with high conflict divorces and has a strategy to present your case. This part of the blog focuses on separation / divorce and financial cases.
You will need to work as a team with your family lawyer and together you should consider:
• Educate yourself – find out more about this disorder and it can help you to understand the narcissist’s strengths and weaknesses.
• Create boundaries – you cannot control other people’s emotions, but you can control your own. So set boundaries and don’t be afraid of upsetting people. Your divorce solicitor may advise you to set a timetable or to issue court proceedings to move forward with your case. This might upset, annoy or disappoint the narcissist. But that might be because they want to control you and the family law process. Your family solicitor is there to act in your best interests and to give you options.
• Speak up for yourself – you have legal rights and claims. The family law is there to provide for a fair outcome. IN working with your family lawyer, be clear and concise.
• Stay calm – the narcissist’s tactic will be to pick a fight, criticise or gaslight you. They may even have a tantrum! But look at the reverse psychology. Why are they acting this way? It’s often because you are standing up for yourself and they are losing control.
• Create a support system – living with a narcissist will often cause you, especially over time, to feel insecure, confused and to doubt your decisions. Your family solicitor is there to help you make informed decisions, to answer your questions and to support you. It is also important to make sure you have a core group of family and friends to support you too. Consider bringing in a counsellor or a divorce coach.
• Try to avoid confrontation – the narcissist will want you to argue and confront them. People often think you need an ‘aggressive’ divorce lawyer. In my experience that strategy is short sighted and can often lead to even more conflict and higher legal bills. That doesn’t mean you have to tiptoe around the narcissist but with your family lawyer, remove the emotion and be assertive instead. This is much more powerful.
It is also a good way of removing control from the narcissist who like to have control and fear losing it.
• Communicate – this is a difficult point. Narcissists have very little empathy so your attempts to have an honest and reasonable discussion will often not get through and can create an outburst or simply for the narcissist to shut down. Therefore, you need a strategy in terms of how you engage with the narcissist, with or without your family lawyer, to consider whether mediation is a viable or realistic option or whether you are better simply referring matters to court and taking charge.
The narcissist is always going to want everything on their own terms, and he/she will attempt to manipulate you and the legal process. Consciously or not this is to wear you down and to a stage where you may want to give up. That is why it is very important to have a well thought out legal strategy at the outset. This will give you the strength to see this through, to receive what you are entitled to and in the knowledge, you are making the right decisions for YOU.
Co-parenting with a narcissist
Legal issues with children and how to deal with a narcissistic ex are similar but different.
Here are some tips or ideas to help with co-parenting:
• Accept the situation – you are never really going to change the narcissist. In that knowledge, you can plan for the way forward with your children.
• Make a parenting plan – your family lawyer can help with this and you will need to be clear and comprehensive with your parenting plan. This will ensure everyone knos and has an understanding of what is expected.
• Make it ‘legal’ – the narcissist will attempt to control or undermine you by using words or threatening ‘I am going to get custody’. They may even want to turn up at your house unannounced ‘to check everything is alright with the children’. This is not acceptable and a legal agreement will set clear boundaries and to create clear lines of respect and privacy too.
• The children’s best interests – this is the cornerstone of children law cases. A narcissist will always look at what is best for them and not the children. Do not be drawn into pointless arguments or positioning or even tactics. Instead prioritise the children’s best interests over everything else and do not let negative feelings about the other parent cloud your decisions. Again, a family solicitor is there is help you make informed decisions and without becoming emotionally involved.
• Communication – I will always advocate communication to help resolve legal disputes. But care is needed with a narcissist who will often attempt to twist what you say, lie or use anything against you. Therefore, there can be a tactic to limit or avoid communication altogether. A solicitor can be instructed to funnel all communications a bout certain issues through them and this is something you can discuss with your family lawyer.
• Remember the children – you will want to protect the children from any conflict between the parents. Also remember to consider how your children may feel and talk to them so they do not feel alienated particularly at this difficult and vulnerable time. Family therapy can also help you, the children.
• Look out for signs of abuse – be alert and for changes of behaviour when the children spend time with the narcissist. This can be quite subtle in terms of regression or withdrawal. Offer your children a safe place within their own and where they feel comfortable to express their feelings and emotions.
• Be consistent – children are creatures of routine. Help support your children and keep to the parenting plan and the care arrangements. This works both ways and don’t let the narcissist undermine these arrangements. Don’t be afraid and don’t give in.
I would recommend focusing on your own mental and physical health. Co-parenting with a narcissist is extremely challenging and you can be ‘lost’ in all of this. You need to be clear and level-headed, which is never that easy in this type of situation. Certainly, do not employ the same tactics as the narcissist by using the children, criticising them and trying to control everything. That will not work. Instead with your family solicitor to need to hold your ground and stick to your position. This can throw the narcissist off balance as they want to control you but can’t.
The narcissist will want to make you feel that you are the ‘bad guy’ but you are not. Again, reflect on the reverse psychology: why are they acting this way and name calling? It’s often because the narcissist is not getting what they want, and they feel weak.
The NHS website has further information including other ways you can get support.
Documentation and evidence of narcissistic behaviour
It is difficult to know if a family case will go to court. Most cases settle but where I have situation involving a narcissist or high conflict situation I will always recommend to my client that they keep a careful note or diary of any incidents, dates, times, what happened, what was said etc..
You should keep copies of emails, phone records, text messages and anything else relevant, for example, on social media, GP records etc.
These records of communications and interactions can be very helpful if, for example, an application to court is necessary. It will help save time and costs when preparing a statement of evidence as it will be easier to recall what happened and to set out the information in a clear and structured way.
Choosing the right family law solicitor
You will need a solicitor who is an expert in family law but who also has experience in dealing with a narcissist. You will also need to feel comfortable with your solicitor and that they are someone that you can work closely with. My approach always is to work as a team with my clients and particularly in this type of situation to ensure there is an empathetic approach.
For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: