Child Custody and Narcissistic Personality Disorders
A narcissist spouse is only interested in them and sees themselves as the center of the universe. This vision does not change when he or she has children, but don’t take that to mean that he or she is likely to shrug off child custody issues. In order to maintain the grandiose and inflated personality he or she has created, your narcissist spouse will go into the divorce court intending to win all issues at all costs. A no-holds-barred divorce battle is unpleasant for all involved, including you, since your spouse will view you as their mortal enemy. But this kind of high conflict, contentious divorce is particularly damaging for your children who will be manipulated by your spouse and used as pawns against you without regard to the emotional damage caused to them.
Narcissists Are Not Good Parents
If you have children with a narcissist spouse, you already know that narcissists do not make very good parents. People with this personality disorder use others, including their kids, to meet their own needs. If the narcissist finds a child talented or intelligent, they use her as an accouterment to demonstrate to others how great he or she is as a parent. They ignore the kids who aren’t overachievers, who are difficult or timid or have special needs. Even the “exceptional” child will be ignored by the narcissist parent when nobody is around to show her off to. The narcissist usually doesn’t have much time for their kids.
They don’t engage with them, and rarely attend their school or extracurricular activities, giving them the clear message that they aren’t important enough. Of course, the harm a narcissist parent inflicts on his or her children can be far worse than this. A narcissist tends to be judgmental and critical of everyone around them, ridiculing and mocking them viciously in order to boost their fragile ego. They are easily angered by the perceived slight, including any moment a child isn’t paying him or her the attention they feel they deserve. They may erupt in rage if one of the kids disagrees with his or her opinions or fails to meet expectations.
Narcissist parents can abuse their children both physically and emotionally. In fact, many spouses make the decision to divorce a narcissist spouse because of the deep pain they inflict on the children. You were aware that such a parent cannot empathize with you, but somehow you never expected them to be completely unable or unwilling to tune into the kids’ feelings. As you watch your kids try endlessly to win their attention and love, without success, something cracks and you call your attorney.
Narcissists Turn Nasty in Divorce Court
Despite your spouse’s disinterest in the kids at home, things look different in divorce court. Once you file for divorce, you are the enemy trying to steal their money, their house and their kids, at least in their eyes. Every last one of the children suddenly becomes essential to them — because they are the best pawns in their all-out war with you. Your narcissist spouse will do anything to win the sympathy of the kids, and if they have longed for his attention, it won’t be too hard to accomplish.
They may use gifts to win their hearts, or suddenly bestow unusual privileges, like pulling them from school to head out to an amusement park. They may schedule a trip to Disneyland with them and take lots of photos that end up in their divorce court filings. Perhaps most painful to you, your narcissist spouse will try to convince the kids that you are to blame for the divorce and also any issues they have with them. And they may succeed, at least temporarily. If he or she doesn’t show up when they are scheduled to pick them up, it’s your fault. If they are feeling sick or sad, you are to blame.
How to handle your narcissist spouse in child custody proceedings?
Divorce proceedings are difficult for kids. They are losing their family –unhappy, but it is all they have ever known — and they feel pulled between their parents even when nobody asks them to take sides. When one parent is a narcissist, the divorce becomes ugly. Your spouse will want to turn it into one of those long, extended court cases that cost tens of thousands of dollars and require sessions with case evaluators, the court appointed mediators and child therapists. Kids are not only stressed by the family breakup, they are actively solicited to take the narcissist’s side and manipulated by them in ways that will tear them apart.
Another part of the equation that is difficult is that, when you appear before the judge to discuss parenting time, the narcissist will carefully cover up the crazed megalomaniac they are. The judge will see the charming person who wooed and won you. Your spouse will be on his or her best behavior, seducing the court with their calm, reasonable discourse. They will make a persuasive case that you are to blame for their failures as a parent, and also discredit your statements about their lack of parenting skills as biased and unsupported. The judge may not be well versed in narcissist behavior, so your spouse won’t be seen as the manipulator he is, but just a normal, loving father who has been trying to engage with his kids, but been blocked at every attempt.
You’ll need a couple of things to get through these proceedings without going crazy: 1) a lawyer with significant experience working against narcissists; and 2) a diary in which you have documented your spouse’s interactions with you and the kids since you separated. The importance of hiring a strong, experienced divorce attorney cannot be overstated. Look for a lawyer with hands-on experience opposing narcissists in court, who knows about the personality disorder and the tricks a narcissist spouse is likely to pull. An experienced attorney will not let your spouse run the show and will take steps to prevent him from grandstanding.
A good attorney experienced in litigating child custody cases against a narcissistic parent will team up with tough, knowledgeable mental health professionals who will evaluate your family and work to protect your children. A good lawyer will also know the kinds of court orders available in your state to prevent continued abuse from the narcissist after the divorce order is issued.
What kinds of help can you expect from the court?
Talk to your attorney about whether a domestic violence restraining order action is appropriate. In many states, it does not matter that the domestic violence occurred long before you filed for divorce; if it ever occurred, you may be eligible for a restraining order. Some state laws permit restraining orders for conduct that does not involve physical violence, like threatening, harassing, stalking, destroying personal property, and disturbing the peace of the other party (you). Many courts also have authority to tailor a divorce decree to control difficult and emotionally abusive parents. They can include non-disparagement clauses (orders precluding parents from speaking badly of the other before the kids), orders forbidding parents from verbal or physical outbursts that threaten the children, or orders precluding certain types of punishment, including corporal punishment. Courts can also require ongoing therapy for the kids and even mandate supervised or monitored visitation.
For more information about narcissists and child support and visitation issues, see Are You Married to a Narcissist, the first article in this series, or see Divorcing a Narcissist, Narcissists and Child Support, and Narcissist Divorce Advice, and Choosing a Divorce Attorney Against a Narcissist for the other articles in this series.