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Divorcing a Narcissist May Be Trickier Than You Think

May 30, 2023 Lynn Wilson McNally

In recent years, the term “narcissism” has become a common topic of discussion between divorce lawyers and their clients. Now more than ever, clients are presenting stories of how their spouse has narcissistic tendencies that negatively impact their marriage. Very infrequently is there a specific diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, but the traits of those individuals are usually the same:  they appear superior and self-important, critical of others who question their positions, arrogant and conceited, and have difficulty managing their emotions and behaviors. Whether diagnosed or not, people with narcissistic personality disorder have difficulty accepting that anything could be wrong with their behavior. This attitude may times leads to a lack of accountability and, in turn, a lack of appropriate treatment. It is easy to see how dealing with a narcissist in the context of a divorce can be incredibly difficult.

How to Handle a Narcissist in Divorce Cases

As a divorce attorney, I work with clients regularly regarding strategies to deal with a narcissistic spouse in the context of a separation or divorce. If spouses separate from each other, there are issues that will have to be resolved, including child custody, child and spousal support, co-parenting, and property division and debt. Generally, the best way to tackle those issues is through negotiation. Negotiation with a narcissist takes patience and strength. Taking a position contrary to the narcissist’s position will most certainly cause a strong adverse reaction. One way to facilitate good negotiations with a narcissist is to strategize your approach so that you lead the narcissist to propose the outcome that you are willing to accept. If it is the narcissist’s idea, it usually goes over better. Another strategy to negotiate productively with a narcissist is to ask questions. Get that person’s point of view without making any statements about your point of view. For example, you could say, “How do you think it is best for us to handle holidays with the children?”  In taking this approach, you are (1) not making a proposal of your own, which a narcissist is sure to reject; (2) sending a message to the narcissist that you want their opinion, which is validating to them; and (3) gaining a lot of information to help you with further negotiations.

Include a Mediator in the Divorce Process

I have also found that engaging a robust and knowledgeable mediator during negotiations with a narcissist can be incredibly helpful. A narcissist does not want to present a negative version of himself to people perceived to be in some position of power. In addition, a mediator can objectively help a narcissistic spouse understand the risks and costs if a settlement cannot be achieved. If skilled in dealing with narcissists, the mediator can employ tactics that provide better chances of settlement outside the court.

Trusting a Divorce Lawyer for Legal Advice

It is essential for a person dealing with a narcissistic spouse in a divorce to have a solid divorce attorney. That attorney needs to help you sift through the rhetoric spewed by a narcissistic spouse to find the truth. That attorney needs to listen to you explain how your narcissistic spouse operates, understand their hot buttons, and strategize carefully about the process of negotiation in order to facilitate a better outcome.   Should you find yourself having to divorce a narcissist, please engage an attorney with significant experience with family law and dealing with narcissistic personalities.

Working with a Specialized Family Law Lawyer on Narcissistic Divorce Cases

Should you find yourself having to divorce a narcissist, please engage an attorney with significant experience with family law and dealing with narcissistic personalities. To learn more about our attorneys and legal advice, contact Smith Debnam today.

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