Divorcing a narcissist or separating from a partner who has a personality disorder or displays narcissistic traits, can bring an added level of complexity to an already stressful time. As family lawyers we often work with people whose partners have personality disorders, or if not diagnosed with any personality disorders, display narcissistic traits. Communicating with these types of personalities requires a certain approach in order to ensure the best outcomes for our clients and their children.
If your partner or former partner is displaying narcissistic traits it can have an impact on both property and parenting matters.
In our work we see that narcissists and people with such personality traits may use a range of behaviours to break down the confidence and self-esteem of their partners. If that sounds like what you have experienced, you may have been living on eggshells, minding your words and actions to make sure not to agitate your partner or ex-partner. Deciding to separate from a person who has potentially made your life frightening at times or left you in a highly anxious state can be an overwhelming thought. Fears for your personal safety, financial safety or the safety of your children is often a block to taking any steps to separate.
Many clients are concerned about the outcome for their children. Questions come up such as how often will I get to see them? Will I lose my children? Will I have any money? These are common concerns and particularly if you have lived with a partner who has used threats and violent language to create fear of leaving. It can certainly feel too overwhelming to leave.
Being aware of your legal rights, knowing what parenting arrangements may look like and how you can get the best overall outcome for yourself and your children can help ease some of that fear as well as empower you to know what will be the best decision for yourself and your family.
If your partner suffers from a personality disorder or severe mental health issues, depending on the severity of the situation, you may be concerned about your children’s safety if you were to separate. These situations can also present challenges in communicating with your partner.
In situations like these, having a network of support to help you navigate how to communicate effectively with the other parent, is necessary. While friends and family may have wise advice, ensure you seek advice from a family lawyer who has had experience in negotiating and managing people with personality disorders and can provide practical advice to make this process more manageable.
Being informed about your rights and having an experienced lawyer on your side can help to get you and your children the best parenting outcome arrangement.
Shared care concerns
Given that separation usually means that you or your former partner are moving out of the family home, the thought of children being with a parent that suffers from a personality disorder without you present may create additional concern. Having a personality disorder or narcissistic traits may not in itself be a reason to not allow a parent to have unsupervised access to their children. Instead, it is about what, if any, risk such behaviours may pose to the children.
This can be a difficult reality to accept, particularly if you feel the other parent is simply behaving in a certain way to hurt or upset you. The reason is because central to family law is what is referred to as the ‘best interests of the child’. While you can read more about it in detail in another article we’ve written below, the Family Law Act aims to ensure that children can have a meaningful relationship with each of their parents, and that they are protected from harm.
The prevalence of personality disorders and mental health issues is becoming far more common. These factors will be relevant when deciding what the appropriate arrangements for the children are, if the personality disorder or mental health issue impacts that parents ability to care for their child or poses any risks.
The Court will always act in the best interests of children, but that doesn’t mean they will be put at risk. If you feel that your child is in immediate danger, you should call the police on 000. If you have concerns, seek specialist advice from a family lawyer immediately.
Knowing When to Act
In situations where it would not be safe for a child to be cared for solely by one parent, there are a number of steps that need to be taken to ensure their safety. This may include supervised visits, compulsory completion of certain programs, or drug and alcohol testing before the children can be in their care. A psychiatric assessment and formal diagnosis can sometimes be required too and if needed, this is to be conducted by a qualified psychiatrist. These can be Court ordered, where it is considered appropriate and would be a part of the separation process.
In our experience, sometimes parents have hesitated to act when they have had concerns for their child’s well being while in the care of the other parent. Apart from being a risk to your child, it may also prejudice your position if you later end up in Court. For example, if your approach isn’t consistent and you have knowingly sent your children to an unsafe environment, it may be more difficult to argue after separation, that the other parent presents more of a risk to your child than you, if the level of risk hasn’t changed from what it previously was.
If you have concerns about your children in the care of the other parent, then you must seek specialist family law advice early.
Communication is perhaps the most important component to consider when it comes to negotiating a property settlement with a person who has a personality disorder or displays narcissistic behaviours.
As family lawyers, we have a lot of experience working with people who have narcissistic traits. You will of course be an important source of information, as you know best how your former partner acts, what can set them off, how they think etc. Sharing this information with your lawyer will allow the negotiation and settlement process to go more smoothly.
People with narcissistic traits often have a desire to win or to have the last word. Having experience in dealing with people like this means that you can adopt a strategic approach to negotiations.
Unfortunately there are also personalities who use the property settlement process or Court proceedings as a way to punish their former partner for ending their relationship. These types of personalities need a quick and direct approach. Elements of communication such as the tone of a letter or the speed or reply can all be vitally important elements when communicating with a narcissist.
Taking Care of Yourself
If you are considering separating from and divorcing a narcissist or someone with another personality disorder, this process will require the support of experienced professionals. If dealing with a narcissist, there may be aspects of domestic violence that you need to consider. Speaking with a family lawyer as early in the process as possible, along with seeking therapeutic support, are some of the first ways in which you can best support yourself. This will allow you to be prepared with a plan for how to best proceed in order to get the best outcome for you.
Knowing your legal rights and having an experienced team on your side will help your confidence and peace of mind throughout the process. People with narcissistic traits can make people around them doubt themselves and begin to lose self-confidence, self-esteem and contact with friends and family. If this has happened to you, be assured that there are other people and organisations that can support you. We can suggest options suitable for both you and your children.
Because we frequently negotiate with people described as narcissists (diagnosed or otherwise), we are well equipped to find the best way to move forward productively. Contacting a family lawyer before you separate or early in the separation process will empower you to make the best decisions you can for yourself and your children. Having an experienced communicator on your side will also make the process smoother and can help prevent any unintended complications.
Phillips Family Law is an award-winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision-making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially, phone (07) 3007 9898 or secure a time by filling in our confidential form here.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.