Is It Possible to Share Custody With a Narcissist?
Co-parenting after a divorce can be difficult for almost anyone. Even if the end of a marriage is relatively low conflict, it is often a challenging adjustment to move from a shared family life to custody exchanges. However, these challenges become even more difficult when one of the parents involved is a narcissist, who seeks to center themselves in all situations and maintain control over all parent-child relationships.
Co-Parenting and Shared Custody
Co-parenting may mean simply dealing with joint custody, but the term is frequently used to refer to a more collaborative type of parenting, in which both parents work together to provide their children with mutually supportive care. A co-parenting framework requires both parents to respect each other as separate individuals with their own lives after their divorce while maintaining a flexible approach to scheduling, appointments, school and day care issues, medical needs, and other aspects of parenting. Rather than a tense, limited relationship, co-parenting implies that parents are committed to working together for the best outcomes for their kids, even after the divorce.
However, co-parenting in this sense may be impossible when a narcissist is involved. Family law attorneys have seen many examples of the difficulties of co-parenting when one parent has narcissistic behaviors and traits. Instead of hoping for an ideal relationship after a difficult divorce, parents may need to prepare for a strictly governed process of parallel parenting negotiated by divorce lawyers. The same traits that led to problems in the marriage and the eventual divorce or a high-conflict situation during litigation are unlikely to disappear during the shared custody process.
In New Jersey, public policy and the family courts strongly favor joint legal custody. Unless there is clear evidence of abuse or neglect affecting the child, it may be difficult to limit joint legal custody or attain sole legal custody without the other parent’s agreement. Your divorce attorney may give you more specific guidance about the likelihood of success in pursuing sole legal custody in your case. Joint physical custody means that the child goes back and forth between each home for roughly equal periods of time, with as close to a 50/50 split as possible. On the other hand, joint legal custody means that both parents are responsible for making key decisions about the child’s upbringing, medical needs and education.
Even when one parent has primary physical custody, with the other parent mainly having parenting time with the children, joint legal custody is the preferred option in New Jersey absent evidence that one parent should be denied that level of involvement with their child. This means that even though co-parenting with a narcissist is extremely difficult, the other parent may need to work closely with their family lawyer to find a mechanism to protect their child and themselves.
Successful co-parenting, in the full sense of the term, requires clear boundaries. Sharing custody does not mean that the parents must give each other full access to their personal lives and personal time but that they must come together to advance the best interests of their children. For example, parents may need to share their work or vacation schedules in order to plan custody swaps and develop a parenting plan, but they do not need to share that information for the other parent to access for their own ends rather than those of the child.
It is not necessary for divorced parents to take holidays or vacations together or to discuss their dating life with the other parent. This can be a challenge even for well-adjusted parents, including people with sincere concerns about how exposed the shared child may be to the other parent’s dating life. However, for a narcissist, this change can be enraging. The narcissist is unable to control the life of the other parent and they may react in extreme ways that are intended to draw the child into the conflict or alienate the child from the other parent.
Strong boundaries that are part of the custody agreement and parenting plan itself may be key to preventing this type of narcissistic damage. Your divorce lawyer can negotiate clear boundaries into the agreement to minimize one-on-one communication and prioritize non-disparagement of the other parent. Without boundaries, a narcissist may work to create or escalate conflicts, exaggerate problems, declare that minor issues are slights or violations and otherwise exacerbate existing problems. While dealing with minor scheduling issues is a part of parenting, narcissists may elevate these situations in an attempt to infringe on the other parent’s time with the child. They may call or text frequently, attend activities or even show up at the other parent’s house in order to insert themselves into the situation.
Negotiating a Parallel Parenting Agreement
When you are divorcing a narcissist but still have to negotiate custody and parenting time, communication needs and other complexities that come with it, parallel parenting may be one way to handle the situation. This means negotiating a custody and parenting time settlement that includes explicit and clear boundaries with potential penalties for violating them, affirmed as part of the divorce decree and custody order. Your divorce lawyer can work to achieve a fair settlement with solid protections for yourself and your children.
For example, there are communication channels that include monitored apps designed for communication between parents sharing custody after a divorce. These apps may be mandated in the custody order and parenting plan as the way for both parents to communicate. This may require additional planning for last-minute changes, but it can also provide peace of mind. Because all interactions are logged, they can also be presented as evidence to the court when necessary.
High boundaries mean that some positive aspects of co-parenting, like flexible schedule changes, may be less readily available, but it can be worthwhile to cooperate with friends, family and babysitters while keeping to a confirmed schedule. This way, the custody documents can be as specific as possible about the times and locations for custody transfers to take place, holiday schedules and similar concerns. The custody order can also contain explicit provisions about privacy and limited contact during the other parent’s time with the child.
A custody order can be specific and include minute details such as the number of phone calls per day or the times of day when texts are permitted. Of course, just as a narcissist is unlikely to deal well with the give-and-take of co-parenting, they are also likely to find these options unacceptable. This is where the assistance of your divorce attorney is so important. Your lawyer can fight for an outcome that protects your emotional well-being and that of your child. After all, there is a reason why many divorces involving a narcissist are high-conflict trials that require litigation and are difficult to resolve through negotiations or mediation.
Consult a New Jersey Family Law Attorney
Divorcing a narcissist can be emotionally punishing, especially as such a person may be willing to do almost anything to “win” in the conflict. When children are involved, this may be especially damaging.
Your New Jersey family lawyer can work with you to devise a strategy for dealing with a narcissist when planning for child custody. Contact the experienced New Jersey family law attorneys at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or by submitting our secure online form for a consultation about your unique situation.