Tips & Tools for Divorcing a Narcissist

Relationships are hard work, especially if your partner is a narcissist. Dissolving a marriage with a narcissist can prove even more difficult and exhausting. In this article, we will discuss the signs of narcissism, difficulties associated with divorcing a narcissist, and potential strategies for dealing with their nastiness during (or after) your divorce proceedings.

Is Your Spouse a Narcissist?

Informally, we often people who act vainly or are self-absorbed as a narcissist. However, narcissism is actually 1 of 10 personality disorders, and it is estimated that about 5% of people have narcissistic personality disorder. According to the Cleveland Clinic, someone can be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) if they exhibit five or more of the following traits:

  • Arrogance or snobby behaviors and/or attitudes
  • Failure to understand or consider the feelings or needs of others
  • Feelings of superiority (associated with a desire to only associate with high-status people)
  • Need for excessive praise and/or admiration
  • Obsessive thoughts about being more smart, powerful, successful, loved, or attractive than other people
  • Overinflated sense of self-importance
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Willingness to take advantage of others to achieve goals

Narcissists often struggle to maintain healthy relationships at home, work, and/or school, because healthy relationships require compromise, patience, and an ability to put the other person first. Signs of NPD typically manifest in an individual’s late teens or early adulthood. Even if your spouse hasn’t been clinically diagnosed, you should prepare for difficulties if you suspect your spouse is a narcissist or if they are simply egotistical, self-centered, or vindictive.

The Difficulties of Divorcing a Narcissist

The difficulties of divorcing a narcissist can include having to deal with some of the following behaviors and/or actions:

  • Lashing out at you (or other people in your support system)
  • Refusing to cooperate with you, your attorney, or the court
  • Attempting to isolate you from others (by defaming you or your character or destroying your reputation)
  • Attempting to turn your children against you
  • Gaslighting you or your children to control or manipulate you or the situation
  • Not making it easy for you to gather information about finances and assets
  • Dragging their feet throughout the proceedings (i.e. not responding to messages or calls, asking for continuances, reneging on agreements, etc.)

Will a Narcissist Ever Divorce You?

A common concern of those divorcing narcissists is that their partner will not agree to a divorce or refuse to sign the papers. However, it is important to note that you can file for a contested divorce. This type of divorce can be filed by one party without the consent of the other party, and the court can help you work towards an agreement.

Once you file your divorce complaint, your soon-to-be-ex has 30 days to respond. If they do not respond and still refuse to engage in the divorce, you may then be able to file for a default divorce, which can be awarded without a signed agreement. If you suspect your spouse will try to stall or not respond after being served, you should speak with an attorney as they can advise you of what your best options are.

How to Handle Divorcing a Narcissist

Retaining an experienced divorce attorney is the best step you can take when divorcing a narcissist. A reliable attorney will help you develop a personalized strategy for handling your soon-to-be-ex’s behavior and pursuing a divorce. To prepare for and handle your divorce from a narcissist, you can also:

  • Sign up for therapy or a support group. Counseling can help you better process your emotions as you get divorced.
  • Identify a support system. Having people in your corner (friends, family, etc.) is beneficial as you go through a divorce. Dissolving a marriage is a major life transition, and it never hurts to have someone to lean on for support.
  • Set boundaries. You don’t have to put up with emotional, financial, or any other form of abuse. Establish and clearly express your boundaries as it relates to communication and interactions. While your narcissistic spouse may disregard your boundaries, you can walk away or use your attorney as a buffer.
  • Refuse to engage in certain battles. Narcissists do not like to lose, and they may try to agitate you or start a fight. Rather than allow their goading to get to you, you can avoid wasting more energy by picking and choosing your battles. It is also important to note that social media posts and text messages can be used in court by either party so be mindful of what you post and say online.
  • Practice self-care. Getting divorced is emotionally taxing (even in the most amicable situations), which is why you should make sure you take care of yourself. Whether you treat yourself to your favorite take-out or go out with friends, prioritize taking time to recharge.

How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist

If you are divorcing a narcissist with children, you may be wondering if you can successfully co-parent with them (during or after your divorce). Here are some tips for making the situation working and maintaining control when co-parenting with a narcissist.

  • Be extremely thorough as it relates to your parenting plan. When drafting your parenting plan, be sure to leave no stone unturned as a narcissist may try to take advantage of unclear or unmentioned terms. The more detailed and specific you are, the better.
  • Maintain your parenting schedule (as much as possible). Having a routine is helpful for you and your children as you establish a new normal. While you cannot control your ex or force them to show up to pickups, you can try to stick to your parenting plan and schedule. Also, you can pursue legal action if your co-parent does not adhere to the terms of your custody or visitation agreement.
  • Document everything. You should save all text and email communication between you and your co-parent, and you should take notes of phone conversations, drop-off and pick-up tardiness, or last-minute schedule changes. This information can be used to show how the narcissist acts or communicates with you, which can be used in court.
  • Expect challenges. Narcissists love playing mind games and hate losing, so you should prepare mentally (and financially) for a long, contentious divorce.
  • Avoid fighting, especially in front of your kids. Fighting with one another can not only make you feel stressed and out of control, but your kids can also feel like they have to pick a side. Avoid fighting by keeping your communication brief and walking away from disagreements before things escalate.
  • Don’t disparage your ex in front of the children. You don’t want your kids to feel like they are in the middle, which is why you should avoid bad-mouthing your ex in front of them.
  • Prioritize your children. Like we’ve said, you can’t control the other party’s actions. Rather than obsessing over their behavior and your interactions, you can focus on being there for your children. Your divorce also affects them.
  • Consider family therapy. To cope with this transition and dealing with a narcissist, you and your children should consider family counseling. Whether the narcissist participates or not, you can develop more skills to cope with and handle them.

Contact Our Family Law Attorney

At Shaw Family Law, we understand how complicated divorcing a narcissist can be. Our divorce attorney is equipped to help clients:

  • Protect their interests and rights (parental)
  • File for divorce
  • Understand their best options (as it relates to responding to delays, making concessions, etc.)
  • Seek modification of divorce agreements (if one party fails to comply with the terms)

Struggling to divorce a narcissist? Contact Shaw Family today (online or at (205) 259-7650} for help developing an individualized legal strategy and legal counsel. Our legal team has over 30-years of combined experience, we want to support you through the divorce process.