Divorcing a Narcissist

By | Published On: January 3, 2021

I was surprised the first time a new client asked me, “Do you have experience dealing with narcissists?” I didn’t expect the term to be in general usage by lay people. For me, it evokes the complex psychiatric system of classification of mental illnesses which is used by highly trained professionals and involves specific diagnostic criteria.

Now, many years later, I’m no longer surprised.

And yes, I have a great deal of experience in dealing with narcissists in the divorce process. Although I’m not qualified to make a psychiatric diagnosis, I do have my own observations about and strategies for handling a narcissistic spouse.

A narcissist is more often a male and is likely to represent himself in his divorce case rather than retaining counsel to represent him. Charm is one of their most effective tools. In fact, a narcissist’s spouse is often fearful they’ll succeed in charming their divorce lawyer!  A narcissist thinks that they are always right and has to have the last word. They lack empathy for their spouse’s point of view and cannot put themself in the other person’s shoes. They find it virtually impossible to compromise and are therefore unable to come to an out-of-court settlement of the issues in their divorce case.

So when the opposing party has the characteristics and behavior of a narcissist, what does the spouse who is trying to divorce the narcissist need to keep in mind?

Here are four suggestions:

1. Develop realistic expectations about settlement versus litigation.

Most divorce cases do settle, and it’s generally wise from both a financial and emotional perspective to try to settle your case. However, when the other party is a narcissist, this is unlikely to be a successful strategy. Be clear from the very beginning that most likely a judge will have to be the one to tell your spouse what the terms of the divorce will be.

2. Conserve your financial resources.

Be strategic in planning the most effective way to pursue your case. Don’t run up legal fees on steps that don’t move you toward closure.

3. Choose the most important issues.

Not every issue in your divorce is of equal importance. Do a cost-benefit analysis so you’re putting your resources and energy into the most critical issues.

4. Rely on your attorney’s expertise.

It’s likely to be quite difficult for you to disengage from your narcissistic spouse. Your attorney is more objective and has been around this block many times before. Select an experienced divorce lawyer, work closely with them and then rely on that judgement and experience as your case proceeds.

And remember: Although the path will likely be a more tortuous one, be clear that you will get divorced.

Katherine O’Rourke is a family law attorney and partner at Tucker PLLC. For more information on navigating your unique situation in a divorce, contact Katherine at korourke@tuckerfamilylaw.com or schedule a consultation.

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