“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the best parent of them all?”

What can you do to win a custody battle with a narcissist?

If you are married to a narcissist and face divorce, their personality disorder is likely to have had major impact on why the marriage did not work out. Narcissists focus mainly on themselves at the expense of others, putting their own needs first and often lacking empathy for others. Such a person may be controlling and manipulative, creating a family life that is exhausting and bewildering for everyone.

Even if your spouse does not have a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder, the characteristics of a spouse with this mental illness may ring all too familiar – raising the question of whether they should be assessed. Psych Central provides a long list of experiences a spouse may have if married to a narcissist, who is “incapable of having a healthy, intimate, interpersonal relationship because narcissism is a characterological disorder.”

The Psych Central author, a counselor specializing in personality disorders and dysfunctional relationships, writes that in divorce, a narcissist is unlikely to be cooperative and will try to “destroy you” in court.

What about the kids?

Narcissistic traits in a parent can be harmful to the parent-child relationship – and even to the child’s quality of care and emotional health – since the narcissistic parent is likely to put themselves above the child.

When it comes to child custody – the legal right and responsibility to make decisions about your kid and to care for them – and time-sharing, when the other parent is a narcissist, you must protect yourself from the demeaning way they will likely characterize you in a custody dispute, and prepare to unmask who they really are. An experienced family lawyer will gather evidence of why the parent’s illness makes for an unhealthy parental relationship and fosters decision making that is about the parent and not about the child’s best interests.

Strategy

First, while it may be difficult for you to reason – much less negotiate – with your spouse, your attorney may be able to negotiate for you with your spouse’s lawyer for a settlement agreement with favorable custody terms. You should share with your attorney for use in negotiation the range of dysfunctional behavior your spouse has exhibited.

Should negotiation fail, the judge must decide custody issues and it will be important for your lawyer to present evidence of your strengths in parenting because it is likely that someone with narcissism will act indignantly, defensively and aggressively in response to evidence that they are unhealthy, even harmful, as a parent.

The bottom line is the judge must make custody decisions that are in the child’s best interest. Florida law requires the court to consider anything relevant to this question, including specific items in a list. Relevant listed factors when a parent is narcissistic include:

  • Parental ability and disposition to develop a close parent-child relationship
  • Parental showing of ability to understand and meet the child’s needs “as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent”
  • Parental mental health
  • Parental ability to understand and meet the child’s developmental needs

If your spouse’s mental health is in controversy and you can show good cause – which should not be difficult to show in a child custody matter – you can ask the court to order that your spouse be examined by a neutral professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Talk to a Florida divorce lawyer about your concerns about your narcissistic spouse to develop a legal strategy to face the problem head on for the sake of you and your children.

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  • The Law Office of Daniel E. Forrest represents individuals in Fort Lauderdale in high-asset divorce matters. Daniel Forrest is board-certified family lawyer and mediator serving the South Florida area.
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