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Divorcing a narcissist — eight practical tips from family lawyers

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Are you married to a narcissist? If your partner lacks empathy, they may be extremely challenging to divorce — especially when children are involved.

Here, our Partner and family law expert Debbie Heald offers eight practical tips for anyone struggling to divorce a narcissist.


How to know if your partner is a narcissist

While there’s no legal definition of a ‘narcissist’, narcissistic behaviour is often described as highly manipulative. 

Typically, a narcissist is obsessed with their own self-importance — which means that it’s almost impossible for them to have any understanding of the impact their behaviour is having on those around them. 

If you have children, this can exacerbate the negative effects of narcissistic behaviour. Narcissists frequently seek to involve children in divorce proceedings by divulging inappropriate information and documents to children — or worse, actively seeking to negatively impact the relationship between you and your children for their own gain. 

This is due to a narcissist’s lack of insight as to what amounts to a child-centric approach and their inability to place the needs of their children above their own. It goes without saying that such behaviour can be extremely damaging for children who are arguably already overloaded with emotions during such a transitional stage in their young lives. 


Narcissistic behaviours will drive the divorce process

If you’re married to a narcissist, it’s important to concentrate on resolving the issues at hand. Focus on the behaviours of the other party and adapt how you handle your separation accordingly.

Remember that you have a unique understanding of the other party, which you can use to your advantage. It’s likely that you’ve known them for a number of years and gone through some significant changes and/or traumatic events together — so you should be aware of how they’re likely to react. Share this information with your solicitor and use it to assist you both in operating a strategic approach to your case. 

Divorce is a means to an end but the behaviours of those involved will drive the process, thereby impacting on costs and timescales. 

Becoming embroiled in labelling or the status of the other party — such as trying to demonstrate that they have narcissistic traits — won’t help to drive matters forward and will only serve to further entrench your respective positions.


Practical tips when divorcing a narcissist


  1. Set boundaries. Keep direct contact to a minimum and consider using a co-parenting app — such as Our Family Wizard or Talking Parents — where children are involved. This will maintain a distance between you, negate their perceived control over you and keep a timely record of information shared between you in relation to your children. 


  2. Keep records. Make sure to fully document any discussions with your partner as well as any incidents. Following separation, start a diary to detail all interactions and any children arrangements. Separation can be an emotionally difficult time and it can often be hard to recall the specifics of events or incidents some months down the line. A diary assists to record dates and accurate details for future reference — and our experience has shown that it can also be therapeutic to note down your thoughts and feelings on specific matters.


  3. Instruct a solicitor. This should be someone you trust with the right experience when it comes to divorcing someone with high conflict personality traits.


  4. Look into therapy or counselling. This may help you to develop strategies to deal with narcissistic behaviours.


  5. Get help from relevant charities. They will be able to offer support and guidance. 


  6. Stay composed. Narcissists will try to project blame and avoid taking any responsibility for their actions. Try not to react. Maintain your composure and stay focused on the issues.


  7. Protect yourself. Consider how best to approach financial and child arrangement negotiations. Take extra care if you decide to embark on mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution. Consider hybrid mediation to maintain boundaries and ensure that you have legal support from your solicitor.


  8. Consider filing a police report. Depending on the nature and extent of the narcissistic behaviour, you may wish to consider filing a report with the police. It’s an offence to control or exert coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. Statistics since the introduction of the offence in 2015 have shown that the recorded number of such offences have increased year on year. It’s believed that this is due to a reluctance to report, coupled with difficulties in demonstrating a course of conduct (as opposed a single incident required by most other domestic abuse offences).


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It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. With the support of experienced professionals, you will successfully navigate the divorce process and positively look to the future.

If you need support, talk to us by completing our contact form below. 

We can help to signpost you to support networks, charities and counsellors while guiding you through each stage of the divorce process.

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