So, You’re Divorcing a Narcissist?
If you are or have been married to a narcissist, chances are, you know it. Of course, an official diagnosis needs to come from a licensed professional. If you have unconfirmed suspicions, here is Webster’s definition of a “Narcissist.”
: an individual showing symptoms of or affected by narcissism: such as
a : an extremely self-centered person who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance
also : a person affected with narcissistic personality disorder, i.e., a personality disorder characterized especially by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, persistent need for admiration, lack of empathy for others, excessive pride in achievements, and snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes.
We have a common saying in the family law field – “We cannot change that person.” As frustrating and enraging as it may be to divorce or figure out parental responsibilities with a narcissist, the unfortunate truth is that we cannot change the fact that they are, in fact, a narcissist and will likely continue to act in accordance with that character trait no matter how reasonable and gracious you are and, in contrast, no matter how much you kick and scream. However, at Solutions Based Family Law Firm we are well-versed in dealing with such individuals and are in a position to provide some tips that will (hopefully) help you navigate the domestic relations realm in a more bearable and streamlined manner.
Tip #1: Emotionally Prepare for the Weapons a Narcissist May Use Against You
As outlined above, common characteristics of a narcissist are an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a lack of empathy. Accordingly, it is not uncommon for such individuals to use the elements that once made up your life together as weapons against you, including your finances, property, possessions, and, sadly, your children.
Pride is especially important to narcissists. Accordingly, as divorces are often emotional and vulnerable affairs, that pride may feel under attack during the divorce process. To protect that delicate pride, the narcissist may lash out and try to hurt you with whatever they can. This may take on the form of using your children as a weapon against you. For example, a narcissist may wish to get all parenting time with your children, not because they think you are a bad parent or that it is best for the children, but because they know that taking the children “away” from you would hurt you. Further, they may seek full parenting time with the children because, statutorily, they will be less likely to be responsible for paying any child support if they have full parenting time. They may try to hide “their” money to keep the same from being divided as marital property. They may seek to get the house in the division of marital property, not because they want the house, but because they know you want it. They may try to quit their job or reduce their income in an attempt to reduce or avoid any potential award of spousal maintenance or child support. Alternatively, they may wish to merely walk away from the marriage and the family as if none of it happened, avoiding all responsibility of divorce and/or parenting. In cases such as these, it is not uncommon that the narcissistic parent seeks zero parenting time, seeks to pay zero child support, and seeks to take no division of any piece of marital property.
What is important for you to know in these circumstances and emotionally preparing for their occurrence is this – the narcissist can take whatever kind of unreasonable position he/she wants to take, but that does not mean that they will get what they want. They can seek to take the house; this does not mean the house will be allocated to them in a divorce. They can seek to take the children; this does not mean a Court would allow them to have full parenting time. They can try to reduce their income to avoid financial obligations resulting from divorce; this does not mean a Court cannot impute them to an income they are capable of making.
This leads to Tip #2…
Tip #2: Lean on the Law and the Legal Process
The Colorado Legislature underlined the statutes that embody the realm of family law with a notion/goal of “equity.” Equity does not mean “equal,” it’s more a method of looking at the totality of circumstances and coming to a determination that is fair and impartial. That said, lean on this law and procedure as it will help prevent the narcissist from taking advantage of you in the divorce/allocation of parental responsibilities process.
The Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure 16.2 outline that parties seeking a dissolution of marriage or child support in an allocation of parental responsibilities case must exchange financial disclosures with one another so that each party has a full accounting of the other’s assets and debts. If, after such disclosures, you believe that party is hiding something relevant to the equitable division of property, you can utilize different avenues, such as discovery or subpoenas, to access that information. You can even hire a forensic accountant whose job it is to figure out if that person is hiding a relevant asset. All in all, know that if you believe the narcissist in your life is trying to hide money or not give a fair accounting of their finances in order to avoid providing you or the children money, there are methods of recourse available to you to get to the truth of the matter.
Best Interest of the Child(ren)
We often hear from a client that “Mr./Ms. X is threatening to take the kids.” However, the truth of the matter is this: You are presumed to be a fit parent unless another party is able to prove to the Court that you are not a fit parent and the Court actually deems you unfit. Without getting too in the weeds, for someone to prove that you are an unfit parent, the evidence they present must reach a very high bar. Accordingly, as you are presumed to be a fit parent, it is also presumed to be in the child’s best interest to have parenting time with you. Courts will often try to arrange a 50/50 parenting time schedule, which can take several forms. If a party wants to have primary parenting time and not share it equally with you, they have to prove that it is in the child’s best interest to not be in your life in an equal fashion. This is also a pretty high bar. Accordingly, as long as you are a fit parent and are not engaged in dangerous/worrisome patterns of behavior, it is very unlikely that a Court would “take the kids” from you completely and allocate the other party all parenting time.
Accordingly, do not let this threat get to you. Lean on the laws in place that put the children’s best interest at the forefront. If it is in the children’s best interest to have parenting time with you, chances are that will most likely happen.
Division of Marital Property
When it comes to dividing property in a divorce, there are two kinds of property – marital property and separate property. In summary, marital property is property attained during the marriage, with a few exceptions such an inheritance, a gift, and so forth. Separate property is any property you had before you entered the marriage. HOWEVER, keep in mind that the increase of your separate property’s value accrued during the marriage will also be considered marital property.
Upon full and complete financial disclosures by both Parties, the laws of Colorado allow the Parties to look at the assets and debts of the marriage and divide what constitutes marital property equitably. That may look like Partner A taking the house and, upon refinancing it, paying Partner B a certain amount of the equity from the same. Further, Partner B agrees to allow Partner A to keep the motorcycle if Partner A agrees to provide a certain portion of his/her 401k to Partner B.
It is not uncommon for a narcissist to use the word “my” a lot – “this is MY money, MY car, MY bank account” and so on. They can feel that way all they want but the laws of Colorado dictate that marital property (which, again, is almost anything acquired during the marriage) shall be divided equitably among the Parties, weighing such factors as each Party’s earning capacity, amount in assets, income, the value of the house, and so forth.
As outlined above, a narcissistic individual may very well attempt to stop working or reduce their income in the hopes of limiting the amount of money they could potentially be “on the hook for” post-divorce. However, Colorado law dictates that if a party is voluntarily un/underemployed, they can be imputed to an income that they are deemed reasonably capable of making. In this instance, you have the opportunity to hire a vocational evaluation expert that investigates the individual in question, their earning capacity, qualifications, skills, history, and so forth and makes a finding regarding what income should reasonably be imputed to them. This number can then be used in place of that individual’s actual income when determining appropriate spousal support or child support.
As outlined above, if you suspect that the other party is attempting to hide money or be untruthful about their income/assets, there are professionals such as income evaluation experts that can investigate the matter and make findings as to what is really going on per their evaluation. Those experts may then testify to a Court regarding their findings and a Court can then incorporate such report and findings when making their final determinations.
Finally, if you are divorcing a narcissist, be very wary of allowing them to draft the Settlement Agreement or Parenting Plan and just signing off on the same. As easy as it may feel to trust that party when they say “here, let’s just sign this, it’ll be fine,” it is important that you do not sign off if you are uncomfortable with any aspect of it or feel that any part leaves you with an inequitable outcome.
If anything, several law firms, including Solutions Based Family Law Firm, offer unbundled services. This is where you pay for us to perform limited work on your behalf, such as reviewing the proposed Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan and telling you what you may be giving up if you sign it or pointing out certain aspects that have been left out that we know would be helpful to include.
When divorcing a narcissist, lean on the laws and legal procedures implemented here in Colorado to make sure you are not being taken advantage of during this vulnerable and emotionally exhausting time. Whether it be by conducting legal research yourself or hiring legal counsel to help you, know what you are entitled to during your divorce or in allocating parental responsibilities.
Tip #3: Consider Appointing a Parenting Coordinator Decision Maker (PC/DM)
If you are divorcing a narcissist and there are children involved, consider getting either a Parenting Coordinator Decision Maker (PCDM) or a Decision Maker (DM) on board.
A PCDM is someone who stays involved post-dissolution of marriage to observe the best interest of the children. A Parenting Coordinator is an individual who can assist you and the other party with making decisions regarding the children and negotiate between both sides to help you reach an agreement. A Decision-Maker, however, has more authority. If you and the other party cannot reach a decision regarding the children, including parenting time, decision-making, child support, or clarification of Court Orders, the Decision-Maker has the ability to hear from both sides and then make a binding decision by which both parties must abide. Accordingly, a PCDM will usually start by trying to help the parties come to an agreement regarding the dispute but, in the event they cannot reach an agreement, will have the authority to make a binding decision on the issue.
Note that if you want to get an individual with decision-making authority on board in your case, it must be agreed on by both parties.
These individuals are extremely helpful in cases where you and your ex-husband/wife cannot get along and cannot work together in making decisions for and regarding the children. If you and the narcissist have joint decision-making authority over your kids but the narcissist always wants to go against all of your decisions, not because they do not think those decisions are in the children’s best interest, but to annoy and frustrate you, then a PCDM would be a great asset to you in that they will listen to the reasoning and positions of both sides and will make a decision in the children’s best interest; a decision that both you and the other party must follow. This is a great way to ensure that your ex is not getting in the way of your children’s best interest and decisions that work toward that interest. Further, it is a great way of ensuring that you both do not end up back in a Courtroom at every disagreement.
Tip #4: Get Yourself Representation and/or Support
If you are divorcing a narcissist without representation, the chances may be higher that you will be left with inequitable and unfair results and may end up having to secure legal representation. If cost is a concern, keep in mind that there may be alternatives to full legal representation depending on your needs and your financial resources. There are times where limited representation may not be in your best interest, and full representation may be a better fit. What is important is that you know that legal services are not all or nothing, we may be able to help you where you are and when you need it and stop there. This limits the amount of attorney’s fees that accrue during a full representation. Accordingly, it is best to schedule an initial consultation to see which type of representation is the best for your personal situation.
In addition, or in the alternative, you could also consider hiring a divorce coach. Divorce coaches are mental health professionals trained to guide and support you through your divorce. And, if you are divorcing a narcissist, it may be especially beneficial to have someone you can speak to and voice your fears/concerns to who is well-versed in the dissolution of marriage process.
Accordingly, whether it be securing full legal representation by a family law attorney, securing unbundled services of a family law attorney, or even hiring a divorce coach, having that support and guidance will be a great tool to you if you are divorcing a narcissist.
You are not alone. If you feel like you need legal representation in your battle to divorce a narcissist, give us a call at (720) 463-2232 or submit an online form to set up a consultation with a member of our team.