How to Divorce a Narcissist.

While never easy to live with, narcissists can become truly cutthroat when it comes to a divorce. Selfish, manipulative, and arrogant to the core, a narcissist is often willing to try anything to win. As a client of ours recently discovered, narcissists will “literally” burn the house down to win.

In this case we represented the wife of a narcissist whose husband refused to believe that she would get half of their home in the divorce, even though under Nevada law, a name on the deed creates a presumption of home ownership. Under Nevada law a name on the deed creates a presumption of home ownership. The Todkill v. Todkill divorce settled this issue in 1972. The judge ordered the home to be sold and net proceeds to be divided equally. The husband was so outraged by the judge’s decision, he chose to burn the house down. While choosing arson and jail time over splitting the house equally doesn’t make sense to most of us, it makes total sense to a narcissist who is committed to win at all costs.

There are strategies for divorcing a narcissist. Whether you’re considering a divorce or trying to navigate co-parenting with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder  (NPD), these strategies and tips can help.

Recognizing a Real Narcissist
Traits of a Narcissistic Spouse
How Narcissism Affects Relationships
How Narcissists React to a Divorce
Initial Steps to Take When Divorcing a Narcissist
10 Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissist
Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

Recognizing a Real Narcissist
Everyone is selfish to some extent. Traits like confidence and thinking more about yourself than others are actually quite normal; it’s when these traits become extreme that a personality disorder can emerge. Not everyone who is selfish or arrogant is a narcissist.

NPD involves a spectrum of distinct traits. Just because your brother-in-law is loud, obnoxious, and makes outrageous statements doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a narcissist – he might just be a jerk. Physical abuse doesn’t always indicate narcissism either, while violence is not acceptable, being violent doesn’t automatically mean someone is a narcissist.

Traits of a Narcissistic Spouse
Are you wondering if your spouse is a narcissist? If any of the following sounds familiar, you may be married to, living with, or sharing a child with a narcissist:

  • They have an inflated sense of self-importance. They believe they are superior to others and are not afraid to exaggerate their achievements, talents, and connections.
  • They have a bottomless need for attention and validation from others. They may fish for compliments and lash out or pout if they don’t receive them.
  • They lack any sign of empathy and can be cold, dismissive, and cruel in their interactions with people.
  • They are willing to take advantage of you and others to achieve their goals. They will use any tactic to get their way, from manipulation to deception to coercion.
  • They can be condescending and patronizing.
  • They have grandiose fantasies about everything, including love, beauty, and power.
  • They can flip-out over the slightest perceived criticism.

How a Narcissist Handles Relationships
While it’s tempting to downplay the effects of a narcissistic spouse, narcissism can have a profound impact on relationships. Here are some of the ways narcissistic behavior can erode the stability of relationships and family dynamics:

  • Lack of emotional intimacy: A narcissist may struggle to form a genuine emotional connection with you because they can only think of themselves.
  • Manipulation and control: A narcissistic partner may use gaslighting like a magic wand to make the hurtful things they say and do seem to disappear.
  • Constant criticism and belittling: A narcissistic partner may constantly criticize and belittle you to maintain a sense of superiority.
  • Lack of empathy and support: A narcissist will be dismissive of your feelings and needs because they can’t empathize with you – or anyone.
  • Excessive jealousy and possessiveness: A narcissistic spouse may isolate you because they are jealous and possessive of your time and energy.
  • Inability to take responsibility: A narcissist will never, ever see themselves at fault in any situation, even if they did it, you saw them do it, and it’s documented on video

Living with a narcissistic spouse can create a tense and unpredictable environment. If you feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells around your partner in order to avoid triggering their anger or disapproval you may be dealing with narcissism.

How Narcissists React to a Divorce
A non-narcissist going through a divorce will experience a range of emotions, including anger, denial, bargaining, and depression. For the narcissist, however, the stages can be very different. At first, they may refuse to acknowledge the divorce is even happening, because in their mind there’s no way someone like you would leave them. Unfortunately, once reality sinks in, most narcissists will react in outrageous ways in order to punish their defecting spouse. If you decide to file your divorce first, you can expect them to behave at their absolute worst, as there’s nothing worse for a narcissist than someone beating them to the punch.

Manipulation Tactics
Your narcissistic spouse may try to manipulate you into believing that you should stay by making you feel like the whole situation is your fault. Narcissists love to play the victim, so you can expect vicious smear campaigns as they try to discredit you to family, friends, and on social media.

Refusal to Cooperate
A narcissist will almost always refuse to cooperate in a divorce. They’ll drag out custody and divorce proceedings and throw every wrench they can think of into the legal process. A narcissistic spouse will delay, lie, and gaslight, and they won’t care if this increases their costs as long as it hurts you. This is especially true if they have more money than you, as they’ll do everything possible to force you to run out of money before they exhaust their own resources.

A good attorney can combat some of these tactics. For example, they can request for attorney fees under NRS 18.010, which allows a judge to award attorney fees if a spouse or parent is being unreasonable in their actions.

Hoovering and Denial
During the denial phase, your narcissistic spouse may attempt to “hoover” you back into the relationship by recreating the romance that sucked you in in the first place. This often happens through grand gestures or love bombing, and can include dramatic displays of affection, expensive gifts, and emotionally-charged promises to change.

Replacement
In some cases, a narcissist will quickly move on to a new relationship, using it to boost their ego and prove they are still desirable. They’ll try to use jealousy to control you, not realizing that you are relieved to no longer be in the new partner’s place.

Initial Steps to Take When Divorcing a Narcissist
When divorcing a narcissist, it’s important to strategize and carefully plan your steps so that you are protected emotionally, physically, financially, and legally.

Gather Documentation
Start gathering documentation and evidence to use to prove your claims in divorce court as soon as possible. Most legal claims will be related to assets, debts, income, and parenting. Gather copies of documents, bank statements, text messages, and emails now, as this evidence can easily “disappear” once your narcissistic spouse realizes what you’re planning.

It’s important to note here that it’s not necessary to prove that your spouse is a narcissist, as the court has no authority to award damages or remove custody simply due to narcissistic behavior. Physical and mental abuse, however, are relevant in custody cases, so if your spouse is narcissistic and physically or mentally abusive, start gathering evidence right away. Evidence can include photos, videos, voice recordings, and journal entries that document abusive behavior towards you and the children.

Secure Your Finances
You should also take steps right away to safeguard your money. Narcissists don’t care about playing fair, and they will be on the lookout for weaknesses they can exploit. Change your passwords, remove them from any credit cards that are in your name, and remove any access they have to your personal bank accounts. It’s important to be as financially stable as possible when you start your divorce.

This is because a Joint Preliminary Injunction (JPI) is issued with every new divorce case, which requires status quo for all finances – meaning neither spouse may transfer, conceal, or sell any community property. Once a divorce case is opened, both spouses must follow their usual course of conduct when it comes to their money and finances.

But what if your narcissist spouse controls all the finances? In the case of Sargeant v. Sargeant, one spouse made most of the money and tried to control it during the divorce in order to exert pressure on his wife. The court ruled this was unfair and made a rule of law that a judge should give both spouses equal access to money to protect their day in court. An experienced divorce lawyer will help you determine if this applies to your case.

Seeking Safety (If Needed)
If you are concerned for your safety, you may find it necessary to move out. Whether to move or not depends on your finances, your custody goals, and your spouse’s behavior after the divorce is started. For example, if your spouse is not violent and the move will cause new expenses like extra rent or utilities, moving may not be in your best interest. Of course, if your safety is at stake, moving might be your only choice. Talk with your attorney to make sure you’re making the right plans for your situation.

10 Tips for Dealing with a Narcissist
By now, you’ve realized that divorcing a narcissist can be exceptionally challenging, but there are things you can do to minimize the collateral damage. If you have to take a narcissist to court, here are some helpful strategies you can use:

  1. Maintain a low emotional response: Narcissists love to push buttons because they thrive on conflict. Stay calm and resist the urge to engage in arguments.
  2. Keep it in writing: When you’re dealing with divorcing a narcissistic husband or wife, insist on communicating in writing. This creates a written record and can keep them from using your words against you.
  3. Set clear boundaries: Even if boundaries never worked during your marriage, now is the time to set and enforce them.
  4. Don’t try to reason with a narcissist: Don’t waste your time or emotional energy when you already know they are unwilling or unable to see other perspectives.
  5. Focus on facts, not emotions: Legal proceedings like divorce are all about the facts. No matter what your spouse says or does, focus on presenting factual evidence and logical arguments.
  6. Anticipate manipulation: During divorce proceedings, be prepared for the full force of every manipulation tactic they’ve ever tried and possibly some new ones.
  7. Choose your battles wisely: Every interaction can feel like it’s taking place on a battlefield. When you’re picking your battles, focus on what is most important to you, whether that’s dividing your assets or child custody.
  8. Seek a fair settlement, not revenge: It’s natural to want to see your narcissistic spouse get some kind of payback, but you shouldn’t be the one to deliver it. Focus on coming to a fair settlement for yourself instead of trying to punish them.
  9. Prioritize the well-being of children: Children who have a narcissistic parent are already prone to being pawns in a tense relationship. Prioritize their well-being throughout your divorce, working with a child therapist if needed.
  10. Surround yourself with a strong team: If there was a time to surround yourself with a strong support team, it’s now. Take time to find an experienced divorce or custody lawyer, support group, and a therapist.

Remember, you can’t control your narcissistic spouse during a divorce, you can only control your own choices. Trying to change a narcissist should never be the goal.

Co-Parenting With a Narcissist
Unfortunately, a final divorce order does not mean the fight is over, especially when you have children. The court order simply sets general guidelines for custody, and a narcissist will be on the lookout for loopholes. When you escape the control of a narcissist, they often try to use their children to control you instead.

Co-parenting is a big factor in determining the best interests of the child. The narcissist will test the bounds of co-parenting. They may be inconsistent and unreliable with their parenting responsibilities, or engage in gaslighting or emotional abuse. They also may actively try to sabotage your child’s relationship with you by using alienation tactics or making false accusations.

If you encounter co-parenting troubles, it’s extremely important that you use the strategies we mentioned earlier, especially these three:

  • Maintain a low emotional response and neutral interactions.
  • Communicate with text or email. Have evidence of what you both said.
  • Set and maintain healthy boundaries.

Look for a therapist experienced in dealing with narcissistic personalities and a family law attorney to help develop strategies for effective co-parenting. Some issues can be helped by an experienced therapist, while others can only be fixed by going to court. This is why you need both professionals on your team.

RIGHT Divorce Lawyers Can Help When Divorcing a Narcissist

Are you wondering how to divorce a narcissist? Facing a custody battle with a parent who has NPD? The team at RIGHT Lawyers can help. Call us at 702-914-0400 or schedule a free call with a lawyer today.