In child custody cases, a person must sometimes deal with a former spouse who is a narcissist. In psychological terms, this type of individual has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Unlike some disorders, this one cannot be treated with medicine, only talk therapy. Regrettably, people who suffer from NPD might believe that everybody has issues, not them. Therefore, they refuse to help themselves while harming others around them.
If a person suffering from NPD is a parent, it can greatly impact his or her children. Help is one thing NPD parents require for the sake of their children and themselves.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder
The following are some of the symptoms of NPD, which was put together by the Mayo Clinic, that can provide an idea if a person or his or her former spouse has NPD:
- An exaggerated sense of worth
- Sense of privilege
- Profound need for unnecessary attention and admiration
- Obsessed with illusions about achievement, power, intelligence, or the ideal partner
- Superiority complex and think that he or she can only mingle with exceptional individuals
- Anticipate special favors and automatic obedience with his or her expectations
- Exploit other people to obtain what he or she desires
- Cannot or will not acknowledge others’ needs
- Problematic relationships
- Lack of compassion for other people
- Respond with anger or disrespect to demean the other individual to make him or herself seem exceptional
- Trouble controlling emotions and conduct
- Undisclosed feelings of self-doubt, embarrassment, helplessness, and disgrace
When trying to gain custody of your child, the case can be tough if your former spouse is a narcissist. The primary plan of attack is for you to get an attorney who has had experience dealing with narcissistic parents in family court. He or she will know what types of questions to ask the individual based on any evidence of narcissism, and in that process, observe any such behavior elicited by your attorney’s specially tailored questions.
Examples of Questions an Attorney Might Ask a Narcissist During a Custody Proceeding
When asking questions of a narcissist during a custody proceeding, the goal is to tailor the questions in a way that will elicit the narcissistic behaviors so the court can witness them firsthand. To do so, an attorney might start out with some good-natured questions like:
- How many children do you have with (former spouse or partner’s name)?
- Do you want to be in your children’s lives?
- Since you want shared custody, what will that mean to everyone involved?
These questions allow the narcissist to present him or herself in a complimentary light, appealing to their need to impress others. Once the narcissist former spouse has an opportunity to declare his or her good family intentions, your attorney may switch to the following types of questions:
- Is it true you have not spoken to your children in three months?
- Is it also true that you have not paid child support in six months?
- Have you frequently threatened to take away the family residence before your children?
These questions are meant to expose the narcissist in front of an audience that he or she truly wants to impress. In doing so, these types of questions can trigger a narcissist’s rage, giving family law professionals an opportunity to witness a distinct personality change and evidence that the narcissist’s words are not aligned with his or her actions.
How to Prove Your Former Spouse is a Narcissist
Maintaining a clear record of your former spouse’s narcissistic inclination will help you. It can be something as easy as keeping a calendar and noting any arguments or disturbing behavior he or she exhibits. Keep in mind that this calendar will be presented to the court. Attempt to assume an impartial viewpoint of the other party and avoid any name-calling in the calendar.
If the conduct becomes excessive with a myriad of texts or phone calls, or the narcissistic individual exhibits stalking behavior like showing up at your place of work or home at improper times, generate a paper trail. Phone the police and begin constructing a case to cease this activity. It’s prudent to do so immediately. This way, when this behavior arises in court, you can show that you took proactive action to stop the excessive events.
Additionally, begin making a list of other people who could act as witnesses to these characteristics. A few terrific witnesses would be impartial intermediaries like your children’s teachers, coaches, or babysitters. Then, examine your ex’s social media posts and activity, and take screenshots if you think something can be utilized in establishing their narcissism. Lastly, save every text message and email between yourself and the narcissist, and write down every conversation you have with your narcissistic former spouse.
Help the Judge Understand the Truth
A few of the major clues that a person is a narcissist is a gap between how he or she presents him or herself to other individuals, what he or she claims, and what his or her actual behavior is. In most cases, he or she will not implement his or her given possession or visitation periods, but then bring a case or file lots of trivial motions to exchange custody. The narcissistic parent will frequently be able to obtain excuses for their acts and try to hold his or her former spouse or an intermediary accountable for them. The narcissist seldom ever acknowledges any fault.
If Necessary, Request the Court to Talk Directly to the Child
In a few cases, judges will talk to the children in private and not in front of their parents. They should only do this if the child is old enough to converse efficiently and knows why he or she prefers one parent to the other. Well-practiced judges and judges who are parents themselves frequently know how to converse with children and can establish the truth of the narcissistic parent’s behavior outside of the court.
Getting a Narcissist to Bare Him or Herself in Court
How Narcissists Twist Reality
Narcissists are skilled in manipulating individuals by twisting reality in devious ways – taking facts way out of context, looking as if victimized when they are really the victimizers, showing themselves as ideal parents even though they do very little to look after their children. They do this to get a response out of you so they can then highlight your faults: you are always some mixture of apprehensive, emotionally responsive, fearful, psychologically ill, and impossible to satisfy.
Narcissists are adept at causing you to question the truth. This type of conduct is known as gaslighting, and it is a kind of emotional abuse. If you have been constantly hurt, you might have become hyper-vigilant and over-reactive. These are common behaviors as a result of gaslighting. However, you must learn to handle your responses in front of family law specialists so you do not seem to be the unstable individual your former spouse is trying to paint you as.
Exposing the Narcissist: Exhibit, Do Not Tell
Legal specialists are apprehensive of spouses who diagnose their partner. If you appear to be judgmental—and become emotional as you explain what is happening—you risk creating a bad impression. Your persuasive narcissist spouse will appear to be the sensible one who has had to bear an overwrought, critical spouse.
In order to persuade a legal specialist to see through the narcissist’s pretense, they must witness the behavior for themselves. If the judge or mediator is able to glimpse your spouse exhibiting the narcissistic behavior firsthand, this will offer the best proof making it more difficult for your spouse to justify it away.
Do Not Respond
The narcissist will be cautious not to directly slander you in court. He or she may instead find ways to make you look bad. If you respond to these attempts by becoming emotional or apologetic, it may only strengthen the appearance that there may be truth to your spouse’s claims or that you are somehow an unstable parent. The best approach is to stay as calm as possible, no matter what your spouse says about you, and show the judge or mediator your ability to remain level-headed and stable even in the face of adversity.
The best strategy when dealing with a narcissist in a child custody case is to use proof and exposure of the narcissistic behaviors. Documenting all communications and interactions will help corroborate your claims to help you gain sole custody of your child and out from under the influence of his or her narcissistic parent. Lowering yourself to a narcissist’s level is not constructive. Exposing the narcissist and having the evidence to support your claims will help others, especially a family court judge, see what you see.