Cutting Ties with a Narcissist: How Your Family Lawyer Can Protect You in Divorce
by Rick Robertson as published by D Magazine
An amicable divorce? It’s rare, but possible. An amicable divorce with a narcissist? Impossible. If this is what you’re facing, expect your divorce to have a few extra challenging layers than the one your friend just went through. This is because a narcissist is incapable of seeing things through any other lens than their own and can’t consider things from another’s perspective. And in divorce negotiations, trying (as hard as it may be) to see things from your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s point of view is essential to when agreeing to terms that will move your toward to settling the divorce. “A narcissist can’t relate to anyone else,” says Rick Robertson, family lawyer and partner with KoonsFuller. “And the chances are high that this is one of the primary reasons the couple is divorcing. A divorce, when a narcissist is involved, can end up being very destructive. When the relationship finally fails, the non-narcissist ends up being better off if he or she can get counseling to learn how to deal with the narcissist as tensions escalate, and they will. A narcissist will drag out a divorce in an attempt to keep some sort of connection and sense of control, even after the divorce is final.”
Robertson says that in divorce cases involving a narcissist, there is one party who is approaching everything logically, and the other—the narcissist—is approaching things emotionally. This means assets are at risk as the narcissist wants to “win” at all costs. “It becomes more expensive for everyone, because things that aren’t even big issues become big issues,” Robertson says. “Divorce cases that normally could be settled go to court because the narcissist wants their day in court to show everyone they were right all along. They feel justified going to court because they believe they can convince everyone they were right all along—even if their lawyer advises them not to. They don’t understand that it doesn’t work that way. And when the non-narcissist spends time and energy to trying to get the narcissist spouse to see his or her point of view, it just wastes time and ultimately, money.”
One of the best ways to protect yourself—and your assets—when divorcing a narcissist is to use the power of your divorce attorney. While a divorce attorney certainly isn’t a licensed mental health professional, most can spot a narcissist very quickly and give effective, proven advice on the best way to deal with one. “We can tell people what they need to know—not what they want to hear,” Robertson says. “This way, they can make informed decisions. We always encourage clients who are married to a narcissist to get counseling for themselves. It will help them with the hurtful aspects of the divorce and keep them strong throughout, especially when children are involved. Our advice is to disengage from the narcissist as much as possible. A divorce doesn’t end a relationship when children are involved—it just changes it. Therefore, you’re going to need all the tools you can get to protect yourself and your children. A good lawyer will say what he thinks and advise what he believes is best for you in order to protect your family and your assets going forward.”
Here are few tips to keep in mind if you are divorcing, or about to divorce, a narcissist.
- Says Robertson, “Remember that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result. It won’t do any good to keep trying to engage the narcissist or get him or her to come to empathize with your plight or see your point of view. It’s an unproductive cycle, and in a divorce, time is money so the sooner you disengage, the sooner you’ll reach the end of your divorce.
- Use your lawyer as your sword and shield. This is why you hired one—to protect you. The lawyer can be a buffer and do most of the communication about the divorce for you or through your spouse’s attorney. If there is something your spouse has threatened you with or that you don’t understand, present it to your lawyer rather than going over it with your spouse. “A good lawyer will take the offense for you when called for,” Robertson says.
- Take advantage of the co-parenting tools the court offers. In Texas, family courts require each parent goes to a court-ordered parenting class, separately, to learn about effective ways to co-parent during and after the divorce. Use the communication techniques and advice from the class and take advantage of educational opportunities and counseling for yourself and for your children. Another court-ordered tool is the Our Family Wizard docket. For a nominal fee, each parent is required to purchase and use this calendar which keeps track of who has the kids when, doctor appointments for the kids, game schedules, extra-curricular activity schedules, etc. This minimizes the communication between parents and can also be used as a record in court in future modification cases, should they arise. “You will be co-parenting your children until they turn 18, and there will be a lot of changes,” Robertson says. “It’s not unusual to find yourself back in court. It’s not uncommon for the narcissist parent to encourage parent alienation from the other parent and use the children to meet their emotional needs because their spouse no longer can. It’s important to be aware of this and act accordingly to minimize damage as soon as possible.”
- Keep copies of everything—texts, expenditures, emails. Chances are, you’ll be in court again and will need back-up.
- Stay calm and disengage. As tempting as it is to fall into the trap of arguing with a narcissist, remember this is their goal. Don’t make disparaging comments about your spouse in front of your children and work with a therapist who can guide you on helping your children if disparaging comments are being made about you. The more fuel is thrown into the fire, the longer it will burn. Take the high road, especially when your kids are watching—and even when they aren’t. Remember that narcissists don’t think the rules apply to them, so be prepared for anything and keep your lawyer informed. Stay as calm and level-headed as possible and don’t leave a paper trail that proves instability or anger, especially on social media, with anything that could be damaging to your case in court.
- Set your boundaries and stick to them. Use the law and your lawyer to fight the battles for you.