My spouse is a narcissist and wants custody of the kids! What should I do?
My spouse is a narcissist and wants custody of the kids! What should I do?Going through a divorce is challenging. But when you suspect your spouse is a narcissist, the divorce may become that much more grueling, as the conflicts will usually increase in quantity and duration.
There is a difference between having a narcissistic personality and having narcissistic personality disorder (“NPD”). NPD is a mental illness that is clinically diagnosed by a psychologist or psychiatrist, while narcissism itself exists on a spectrum. In other words, having narcissistic traits does not necessarily entail a diagnosis of NPD.
Because narcissists will not acknowledge they have a problem, NPD often goes undiagnosed. When dealing with someone with narcissistic traits, you may notice the following about them: Unfortunately, divorce heightens these behaviors in a person. This is often true even if they were the individual who initiated the separation.
If you suspect your soon-to-be ex is a narcissist, you should learn as much as you can about narcissism, especially how best to deal with someone exhibiting signs of it, as your co-parenting relationship will continue long after your divorce becomes final.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if your narcissistic spouse wants custody of the kids.
Terrible spouses might be good parents.Before you try to fight back against your narcissistic spouse who wants custody, it is important to note that being a bad spouse does not necessarily make you a bad parent. In other words, you can be a terrible spouse while still being a good parent.
So ask yourself, and be honest: Is your spouse a good parent? Do they take care of your children’s physical and emotional needs? Do your kids genuinely like to be around your spouse and feel safe with them?
In most states, including Massachusetts, judges make custody decisions in the best interests of the child, and they believe that having both parents involved in the upbringing of the child is in the child’s best interest unless there is a compelling reason to exclude a parent, like abuse, neglect, or untreated substance abuse and/or mental illness. Therefore, you may end up with joint custody, sharing parenting time with your spouse irrespective of the narcissistic characteristics they exhibit.
Having your kids spend time with your narcissistic spouse may still be in their best interest.With the above standard in mind, before you prepare for a legal battle that will be lengthy, emotionally grueling, expensive, and difficult to win except in extreme circumstances, ask yourself: Are you sure that your kids spending time with your spouse is not in their best interest?
This is a point where you need to be introspective. You have to acknowledge if it is your hatred of your spouse, your resentment, and your eagerness to exact revenge on them that is driving you to keep your children away from their other parent. The most operative question thus becomes: Do you hate your ex more than you love your children? Be sure your spouse is pushing for custody to hurt you before making that claim, and be prepared to prove it.
If you are going to claim your spouse is pushing for custody to hurt you and not out of genuine interest in raising the kids, you better be sure of it and able to prove it. Unsuccessfully making this claim in court can reflect poorly upon you. Again, judges believe that having two parents involved is in the best interest of the child so long as both are stable.
It is important not to discount that your spouse may be interested in spending time with the kids. It is also possible that a spouse who was not as involved in child-rearing during the marriage can see divorce as an opportunity to become a better parent. If, before you separated, your spouse didn’t appear to be that interested in raising the kids on a day-to-day basis, you should keep in mind that may have changed.
If you want to prove that your spouse is seeking custody to hurt you, you need evidence. To that end, collect all evidence that your ex has a vindictive motive in trying to take custody of the kids. There are a few ways to do this: Document issues related to the parenting schedule and expenses incurred by raising the kids, as well as saving correspondence between you and your spouse that might suggest there is an ulterior motive in their push for custody.
Furthermore, you can request a custody evaluation. During such an evaluation, a court-appointed expert will interview you and your spouse, children, and other people such as relatives and childcare providers that are close to the family. They will also review the family’s personal records to get a more in-depth picture of the family’s situation. They will address such questions as whether your spouse’s existing work schedule permits him/her to be as hands-on as necessary on parenting.
If the court deems it necessary, it could order a psychological evaluation. From there, the evaluator can suggest a custody arrangement. However, it must be noted that the psychological evaluator can only make suggestions, not diagnoses. So if you are interested in using a diagnosis of NPD to support your case, you would need to provide evidence of one. As stated earlier, this can be difficult to obtain.
Don't add fuel to the fire.More strain between you and your spouse equals a higher risk of emotional harm to the kids. To prevent this, keep interactions calm to the extent possible. During the divorce process, it is best to limit your communications between you and your spouse, which you can do by asserting boundaries. In writing, plan out which topics you agree to discuss, such as logistical parenting issues, and also determine a specific amount of time in advance in which your spouse is able to call.
Narcissists thrive on bringing out your worst emotions, so be careful not to react when they do try to press your buttons. For the sake of yourself and your kids, remain calm. To the extent possible, plan your responses in advance, and refrain from engaging in arguments with them. They will try to start disagreements with you, so do your best not to fall into their traps.
During a divorce, it is very important to have evidence of your spouse’s behavior towards you and your children. Specifically, narcissists or those displaying narcissistic traits tend to be pathological liars and may even lie in court. They may try to claim you said something you did not or that they did not say something they did.
Therefore, it is important to document all of your interactions with your spouse. Try to avoid talking over the phone or in person, limiting communications to text and email. If you do speak in person, create a record afterward by writing down what they said, including documenting the day, time, and any witnesses who may have seen or heard the exchange.
Sit down and outline examples of your spouse's behavior and how it impacts the kids.This is an important step because if you can't show the impact on the kids, a judge may not weigh it in the analysis. Additionally, document your spouse’s behavior when parenting the children.
For example, if they repeatedly flake on their scheduled custody time, you should document it, as well as how your children have been affected by the behavior. Similarly, if your children come home upset because their other parent mistreated them during their parenting time, keep a record of that as well.
How your children react is a critical part of your documentation. You need to be able to show a judge that your spouse’s parenting is negatively impacting your kids if you want to push back against their goal to take custody of them.
Keep a log of your parenting time and responsibilities and any significant incidents.If the case is contested, you want to be able to accurately recall key pieces of information and events. Again, because narcissists tend to lie, it is very important to be able to accurately recall details surrounding your custody case.
When dealing with your existing custody arrangement, again, it is critical to keep a detailed record of the responsibilities you face during your parenting time, how much money you spend, as well as any significant incidents that might have occurred during the parenting time.
This way, if the events become relevant to the proceeding, you can more easily remember them. The record can help to timestamp your recollection, such as emailing or texting the account to yourself.