High-Conflict Divorce and Narcissists

Divorcing a Narcissist

Divorce can often be challenging for anyone in New Jersey, even when the end of the marriage is relatively amicable. It remains not only an emotional challenge but also a significant legal, financial and practical time of transition. The regular difficulties associated with divorce can be exacerbated, however, when one of the parties is a narcissist.

What Is a Narcissist?

Certainly, almost no one intends to marry a narcissist. However, sometimes the events that transpire over the course of a relationship can highlight the narcissism of one spouse, often causing the conflicts that led to the decision to divorce. Narcissism may be used in both its clinical sense as well as in more casual parlance. In either case, it indicates a person with an inflated sense of their importance and centrality to any situation. Narcissists want admiration and excessive attention and may react with anger when they do not receive the levels that they feel are sufficient.

Relationships affected by narcissism are often troubled, especially as a narcissist can be grandiose, dominant, self-absorbed, combative and exploitative. Narcissists may amplify their own feelings and pain while feeling little to no empathy for the pain of others. All of this is a recipe for a very difficult marriage, and it can also lead to an especially challenging divorce. If you are divorcing a partner with narcissistic traits, your New Jersey divorce lawyer can work with you to develop a plan to protect yourself throughout the process.

Dealing With Escalated Conflict

Divorce from a narcissist is often a high-conflict process. Scholars describe a high-conflict divorce as one with “unquestionably destructive” emotional effects on the spouses and other family members. In most cases, family law attorneys may advise their clients to pursue more cooperative methods, such as negotiations, collaborative divorce, or mediation, in order to save time, money and emotional pain. However, most high-conflict divorces involve extreme levels of anger, deep distrust between the parties, and a refusal to communicate. As a result, spouses and their respective divorce attorneys are engaged in costly, lengthy litigation that can deplete the marital estate as well as cause emotional stress and pain not only for the parties but for their children and loved ones.

High-conflict divorces are often linked to escalated levels of anxiety and depression. Parents who are narcissists may use their children as pawns in the conflict, leading to greater emotional instability for kids who are already going through one of the most challenging times of their lives.

When a narcissist is involved in a divorce, it often becomes a high-conflict matter. Many of the most common traits associated with a high-conflict divorce are also associated with narcissism. High-conflict partners may be deceitful, seek revenge, argue frequently, harass others and act aggressively. They are also experts in gaslighting and crazy making. Other narcissists may be covert. They may not aggressively engage with the other partner; instead, they may be envious, with an excessive ego and need for attention. However, both types may be entitled, exploitative and arrogant, lacking empathy for others.

Narcissistic behavior during a divorce is not always characterized by angry arguments. Instead, it may involve ordering a family lawyer to engage in extensively aggressive legal tactics while displaying little emotional interaction. However, an extremely aggressive legal approach can be just as draining as the stereotypical screaming match.

When Children Are Involved

There are a number of tactics that people can take to manage a high-conflict situation during a divorce. It is not possible to control the decisions or actions of an estranged partner. However, by consulting with a divorce attorney about the options available when moving through the divorce process, people can develop a plan to minimize the emotional harm caused by narcissism or high-conflict divorce.

This can be particularly important when children are involved. In many cases, parents may opt for mediation, negotiations or collaborative divorce because they are planning to move forward to a positive co-parenting relationship following the end of the marriage. That may be a significant challenge in any relationship involving a narcissist, and it may be a higher priority to seek a planned and scheduled system with monitored or formal communication requirements to avoid exposing the children to higher levels of conflict and emotional trauma.

Co-parenting can be difficult even for amicable former spouses. They must deal with custody, decision-making, child support payments and juggling schedules for vacations, holidays and extracurricular activities. Most parents want to do everything possible to shield their children from excessive exposure to the divorce and the conflict between them.

This may be a greater challenge when a narcissist is involved. Narcissists often need to feel as if they have “won” a conflict or hurt the other party in some way, which may lead to them using the children in order to achieve the desired outcome. High-conflict divorces often expose children to physical or verbal aggression between their parents, and one partner may share inappropriate information with the children in an attempt to distance them from the other partner.

In many cases, the most serious effects of divorce on children take place not simply because of the divorce itself but because of its high-conflict nature. Kids in this environment may face a broken relationship with their parents, emotional stress and trauma and later disturbances and psychological concerns. The effects may linger for years and exposure of children to this type of conflict may be considered a type of neglect or abuse.

Taking a Legal Approach

If you believe that your partner is a narcissist, discuss your concerns with your family law attorney. It may be important to bring in emotional support for the children, such as a therapist, so that they have a safe and neutral space to process the confusing and hurtful reality surrounding them. Negotiations and mediation may be very difficult when dealing with a narcissistic spouse, and it may be necessary from the beginning to plan for a litigated divorce in the New Jersey family courts.

After all, mediation and similar procedures generally lead to faster, more amicable and less costly options. However, the only time when such processes are not recommended is when one partner will not engage in the process in good faith or seek to drag out the divorce. They may paint a false picture of themselves, their actions and their circumstances in order to gain pity or sympathy from others. In some cases, narcissists may attempt to hide their finances from the family court to “win” the process of asset and property division.

A structured court process may be the most manageable option for dealing with a divorce with a narcissist. This may be one reason why courts handling family matters find 90% of their time taken up with high-conflict divorces. These cases are likely to involve a greater number of legal filings and a stronger approach on the part of a family law attorney. Even the courts may struggle with reaching a fair decision that adequately protects the children. Parents who are concerned for their children’s safety and well-being should take care to carefully document their experiences to have the best chance of success in court.

Consult a New Jersey Divorce Lawyer

Your family lawyer can work with you to plan a strategy for a high-conflict New Jersey divorce. Contact Jeralyn Lawrence at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or submitting the form on our website. We are conveniently located in Watchung and Red Bank.

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