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How to divorce a Narcissist

There is a saying that all psychopaths are narcissists but not all narcissists are psychopaths. For anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist and is attempting to divorce them, this fact may seem a small mercy. Unfortunately, many successful people have significant narcissistic traits, therefore, we often deal with spouses in high-net-worth and international divorce who are trying to escape a narcissist.

The term narcissist is used a great deal these days. However, someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is very different from a person who enjoys posting selfies. Often charming and personable in public (including the courtroom), someone with NPD can be controlling, superficial, manipulative, and downright dangerous. Although the English family law system is geared towards encouraging couples to work out financial settlements and arrangements for children between themselves or through mediation rather than going to Court, a narcissist will thrive on dragging out proceedings as long as possible. Furthermore, someone with NPD is unlikely to ever admit they did anything wrong and will blame you for the relationship breaking down. This can often lead someone to question their sanity and start to believe they are wrong – this is known as “gaslighting”.

To stay strong and sane, you need to instruct an experienced, tough Divorce Solicitor who will refuse to engage with your spouse’s gameplaying and will tenaciously fight to ensure you and your children’s best interests are protected, especially concerning the financial settlement.

What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

NPD is a recognised mental illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a guidebook used by mental health professionals, people with NPD have five or more of the below traits:

A grandiose sense of self-importance
Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

A belief that one is special and can only be understood by or associate with special people or institutions A need for excessive admiration
A sense of entitlement (to special treatment)
Exploitation of others

A lack of empathy

Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy Arrogant, haughty behaviour, or attitudes

Like all mental health issues, narcissism is a spectrum. People such as Bill Gates, Kayne West, Donald Trump, and Mariah Carey have all been accused of displaying narcissistic traits which may make them difficult to be married to. However, this does not necessarily mean they have full-blown NPD.

Regardless, the more narcissistic characteristics a person has, the more difficult it will be to divorce them.

Negotiating financial settlements with a narcissist

It is extremely difficult to negotiate the terms of a financial settlement with someone with NPD. Because they lack empathy, they can’t consider the needs of you and any children as they are fixated on their desires. Although Family Law Solicitors, especially those who are members of Resolution, try to help couples settle without going to Court, such an aim is often impossible if one spouse is a narcissist.

Because someone with NPD or significant narcissistic traits will never admit they are in the wrong, you may think it is simply easier to let them have what they want in terms of the financial settlement so you and your children can get out of the situation and find some peace. Rather than jeopardise your right to a fair financial settlement, in so far as possible, have all communications regarding your divorce go through your Solicitor. A Divorce Lawyer experienced in HNW divorce will undoubtedly have come across narcissists many times and will have the emotional detachment and the strategies to sort out the financial settlement efficiently and effectively, regardless of any game-playing by your spouse.

Arrangements for children

Studies show that growing up with a narcissistic parent is incredibly damaging for a child. One group of scholars have stated:

“Narcissistic parents cause attachment injuries to their children through the frequent abdication of their parental role. Such parents view their children as a natural extension of themselves. Thus, the child’s shortcomings are met with greater intensity, as they are perceived by the parent as their own failure. In an attempt of self-protection and to recover their sense of self-worth, parents distance themselves from the children, leaving them confused and emotionally abandoned. At the same time, parents may psychologically merge with their children, whereby, the children are narcissistic extensions of their parents; their children’s achievements and successes are presented as their own.”

Although a narcissist is focused on themselves, they may not hesitate to fight for your children to primarily reside with them in order to exert control or hurt you. Any attempt by you to protect your children from the narcissistic parent is likely to result in accusations of parental alienation.

An experienced Family Solicitor will be well versed in such tactics and will, if required, organise for expert witness reports setting out the impact of the narcissistic parent’s behaviour on your children, especially if it tips over into abuse in terms of coercive and controlling behaviour.

In summary

Divorcing a narcissist is difficult for everyone involved. More than ever, it is vital that you instruct a Solicitor who is not only experienced in HNW divorce but also in managing cases where one spouse exhibits narcissistic traits.

“You will never get the truth out of a Narcissist. The closest you will ever come is a story that either makes them the victim or the hero, but never the villain.”

― Shannon L. Alder

Edwards Family Law is a niche London-based firm specialising in high-net-worth divorce and international family law. To find out more about divorce and financial settlements, please phone +44 (0)20 3983 1818 or email contact@edwardsfamilylaw.co.uk. All enquiries are treated in the strictest confidence.