Updated: May 11, 2021
you may feel you're fighting in your own revolutionary war. here's what you can expect in and out of the courtroom.
Going through a divorce is one of the most hellish, emotionally devastating life events a person can go through, and that’s under normal circumstances.
Add to the equation a controlling, emotionally abusive spouse with a narcissistic personality bent on punishing you by making the divorce be as long and financially crippling as possible, and worse – treating your children as possessions to be taken from you – and what you have are the variables for an endless, contentious divorce and custody case file that Massachusetts courts label “high conflict”.
Most judges in Massachusetts probably take their obligations of honoring the ‘best interests of the child’ standard seriously, but in practice, there’s no guarantee they’ll identify the toxic individual as the source of the conflict, because most of them lack the training and education to do so.
In fact, their track record for getting it wrong is pushing domestic abuse advocates, researchers and protective parents in many states, including Connecticut, California, Hawaii and Colorado, who have been let down by a legal system that systematically places the rights to be a parent above a child’s rights to be safe and free from all forms of abuse, including psychological, to call for policy change.[***]
So, not only do you feel the grief of your marriage crumbling and normal guilt around your kids losing the ideal of a family unit, but also the mind-numbing distress of having to prove that, despite research showing otherwise, it does not take “two to tango”.[*]
narcissists feed on conflict. the court system offers a feast.
Sadly in Massachusetts, as in most other states, judges assume both parties are equally complicit in the feud, and therefore won’t bat an eyelash at granting joint custody to an abuser with a long-standing history of coercive control and interpersonal abuse – an insidious, hidden, silent abuse, because not all domestic abuse leaves a black eye.[*]
Narcissism is characterized as “extreme self-involvement to the degree that it makes a person ignore the needs around them” and carries with it a set of traits that you’re likely all too familiar with, such as grandiosity, manipulation and an overbearing sense of entitlement.[*]
A narcissist is antagonistic by nature and lacks the capacity for self-awareness, compassion and perspectives that conflict with his own, which make co-parenting difficult… if not downright impossible.
Their large egos need narcissistic supply like the body needs food, water and oxygen. And unwittingly, the very process of divorce court lays out a lavish feast by giving the narcissist an audience to present lies and distortions meant to paint you – the protective parent – as the disordered, abusive one, and a platform that can be easily weaponized and used to destroy you financially.
That’s why the divorce process is especially generous to the narcissist who has financial means, who seemingly derives sadistic pleasure from filing endless complaints and allegations that you have to spend thousands of dollars to defend yourself against – all while he paints himself as a victim, oblivious to the emotional and financial stress it puts on your children and your ability to be your best in caring for them now and in the future.
When you divorce a high conflict personality, the conflict is largely one-sided as the narcissist’s need for ultimate power and control over you trumps all efforts to put your kids first.
But the narcissist’s kryptonite is his predictability. Without self-awareness, empathy and the ability to recognize normal human flaws in himself and accept them in others, his behavior plays out like an old movie you’ve watched 100 times.
what to expect from your high conflict ex in and out of court:
His charming personality will be on full display. The charisma that drew you to him in the first place will be ratcheted up in front of judges, court personnel, mediators, GALs and anyone he needs to deceive to win. Be forewarned: many of these “neutral” parties may fall for the award-winning performance. Without knowing the subtle signs of coercive control, domestic abuse and high conflict personalities, they’re more likely to fall victims to the manipulation.
A narcissist does NOT play by the rules or follow the law. Whether it’s a temporary custody order or a final separation agreement, don’t expect him to follow it. His arrogance and self-importance are so inflated that Fenway Park couldn’t contain them. Sure, you can file contempt charge after contempt charge to nudge him to comply. But by the time of your hearing, the bad behavior will have been corrected, which can then make you look petty and conflictual for filing.
“Give him an inch, he’ll become a ruler.” This is what a renowned litigation attorney in Worcester says of divorce and custody battles with a high conflict personality. Expect for the narcissist to exploit every opportunity available to win. The deeply distorted thought patterns that make him believe you owe him something turn him into a man-child child battering ram who’ll continue to crash past your boundaries until you give up the fight and relent to his demands no matter how petty. The key is to know when to stand your ground, when to be flexible and when to fold.
Negotiating with a narcissist is like running on a hamster wheel. Remember the long, winding conversations during your marriage that left you feeling numb and confused, and resolved nothing in the end? That’s what negotiations can be like with a high conflict personality. And when he verbally agrees in a 4-way attorney meeting or mediation, get his written commitment fast, because the probability is high he’ll change his mind in a twisted effort to destabilize you and draw out the conflict.
Co-parenting with a narcissist is no better than divorcing one. Your soon-to-be ex-spouse is also your soon-to-be co-parent with whom a judge will expect you to engage in healthy and civil joint parenting. Except that once the watchful eye of a judge is gone, your ex will use co-parenting communication to continue violating you by blocking, countering and sabotaging decisions that serve your children’s growth, development and happiness.
So, how do you survive your divorce while protecting yourself and your children?
As the healthy, protective parent who’ll do anything to provide a stable upbringing to your children, your best weapon is your genuine desire and ability to put their needs first.
That said, it’s crucial to you and to their protection that you proactively and strategically build a case file that show your ex’s conflicting public and private behaviors so that a Massachusetts judge, 3rd party evaluator and even your attorney can understand the unhealthy dynamic underlying your situation.
reach out to a certified high conflict divorce coach and custody advocate who has battled a narcissistic personality in Massachusetts.
If you’re concerned that you may be going through a divorce settlement with a spouse who displays signs of narcissistic personality disorder, first make sure you have the support of a knowledgeable attorney who understands how high conflict personalities operate and can devise an effective strategy for a divorce settlement and parenting plan.
Next, add a certified high conflict divorce coach to your team. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation so we can support your legal case and emotional resolve by guiding you through proven strategies you can only get from a certified high conflict divorce coach who has been on the front lines of divorce and child custody with a narcissistic personality.
A coach who is trained and certified in high conflict divorce is more than a secret weapon, but an advocate and ally who will provide the emotional support and validation that can help you strengthen your resolve.
Author, Certified High Conflict Divorce Coach, and Founder of Stomping On Eggshells, LLC based in Massachusetts
Thank you for reading my article. I realize that if you are here, you or someone you love is contemplating divorce or going through a child custody battle with a toxic individual who exhibits narcissistic traits. Because the typical rules of engagement don’t apply to a person who initiates high levels of conflict, I welcome you to contact me to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to explore how coaching may benefit your case. I’m a certified high conflict divorce coach who has walked in your shoes, and it would be an honor to help guide you through your high conflict separation and divorce in the North Shore, South Shore, Metrowest or wherever you are in Massachusetts.
(Note: the author recognizes that both men and women can have high conflict personalities, manifest narcissistic traits and develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder or other Cluster B personality disorder. In this article, the personal pronoun “he” is the default not out of gender bias but to be consistent with scientific evidence showing that men are more likely to exhibit narcissistic traits.[*])