Divorcing a Narcissist in Arizona
Charming, self-confident, conceited, grandiose: these are a few of the common terms used to describe a narcissist. All of these are traits admired and even encouraged in our externally driven society. However, if you are married to a narcissist, you know the rest of the story: that narcissists are quick to criticize and judge, but launch brutal verbal attacks or erupt in rage at the smallest slight; that a narcissists’ charm will captivate you when they want something from you, then detach and abandon you once they’ve got it; that narcissists have no empathy for their spouse or children; that narcissists view the world in terms of “me” and “mine.” These deeper truths about the narcissist personality disorder are hard won, as anyone who has been married to a narcissist will attest.
A marriage turns into a war zone because a narcissist, lacking empathy, does not know what it means to be accountable for his or her behavior. They set up married life with himself and his needs at the center and does not hesitate to exploit you and others for his own gain. Things turn from bad to worse in your marriage and, when enough is enough, your thoughts turn to divorce. Ending the marriage often takes a surprisingly long time to present itself as a viable option, since a narcissist is good at persuading you that the unhappiness of the marriage is your fault.
You may not consider divorce until children are born when you see clearly how these young and innocent kids are being given the blame for unacceptable behavior by your spouse. Sometimes you may need to work with a therapist to figure out that nothing you can do will make your marriage a healthy, intimate relationship. Once you’ve made the difficult decision to end the marriage, you may think the worst is over. You’ll do well to protect yourself and hire a good lawyer who has represented people who were married to a narcissist and who knows exactly how to deal with such a personality.
Narcissists Look at Divorce Like as a War
No divorce is pleasant, but when you divorce a narcissist, it’s like a whole new front to your marriage wars. Your narcissist spouse has no conception of how he or she failed as a spouse and a mother or father. They are not conscious of their bad behavior and will have no idea why you could choose to leave and they will not get over being left, not soon, not ever. They will wage an all-out battle to prove you are to blame, and, unfortunately, the court system is an ideal platform for a narcissist. Expect an all-out, take-no-prisoners war. It is pure fantasy to think that your narcissist spouse will talk through property issues, come to a reasonable agreement, work out an equitable parenting plan, and move on with their life.
By taking the step of filing for divorce, you have – in their view – launched an attack on “their” home, “their” kids” and “their” money, and they are not going to forgive and forget. They will take every opportunity to exact revenge and have you publicly labeled the guilty party. Your spouse’s preferred path for getting back lost power and meting out revenge is to create massive chaos in the divorce process. Their rage will know no bounds, so you risk being drawn into ugly skirmishes. The nastiness of the fight may cause the court and involved professionals (like social workers) to view you two as a “high conflict” couple who are both in need of psychological treatment.
Since it isn’t easy to establish emotional abuse in a disputed matter, the charge is not always taken seriously by the court. If this sounds discouraging – it is. Nothing is easy about divorcing a narcissist. But an experienced legal team can help you avoid all or part of the punishing battle by staying on top of the issues and steering a careful course through the entire divorce proceeding, stating from day one. Your spouse will turn on that charm for mediators, judges, and juries. Think back to when you first met your spouse – how charming he was, how attentive, completely engrossed in you. A narcissist spouse has the power to turn on that charm for the divorce court judge, a mediator and a jury if you have one.
The Divorce Court May Not Be Aware of Narcissism and Its Effect on Divorce
Since narcissism is not well understood by court personnel, your spouse will have every chance of presenting himself as the star he wants to be. Dr. Mark Banschick discusses Malignant Divorces in his article by that name on the About.com website. He notes that in order to deal with a narcissist in a divorce, you have to understand the lengths he can and will go to win over court personnel and divorce witnesses. “The narcissist can undermine you with your friends, with your kids, and steal your money,” Banschick ways, “all the while looking sincere and generating good will among the community.”
In fact, any attempt to mediate or use other non-adversarial methods of resolution with the narcissist can just play to his strength. He has a big personality and knows how to win over his audience when he wants to. During legal procedures like depositions and while testifying in court, your spouse is likely to win the hearts and minds of all present, coming across as charismatic, rather than calculating and manipulative. This can leave you feeling emotionally vulnerable, alone and unsupported. Since people who work in family law courts are not usually trained to identify narcissistic behavior, they may not see the performance for what it is, but rather tend to see things his way. Be sure you hire a lawyer sufficiently experienced to avoid these same mistakes.
You need a strong-minded, experienced divorce attorney. Your best bet for navigating the rough waters of your divorce from a narcissist spouse is to hire a lawyer who’s been down the road before. While there is a first time for everything, you do not want your case to be an attorney’s learning-experience with narcissism. Choose an attorney who is familiar with narcissism and has many tried-and-true tactics for handling his manipulation. If you select the right person to represent you during this profoundly challenging divorce, you may be able to avoid the financial and emotional damage your spouse intends to inflict on you, not to mention the trauma to your children. Your spouse probably had no emotional bond with the kids during your marriage, since narcissists cannot have intimate relationships. But he or she is sure to claim them in a divorce, knowing that they are the best weapon against you.
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 Narcissists and Child Support, and Narcissists and Child Custody/Visitation, Narcissist Divorce Advice, and Choosing a Divorce Attorney Against a Narcissist for the other articles in this series.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.
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