Many people believe that if a person is arrogant, conceited or self-centred, they’re a narcissist. But this flippant presumption, trivialises what narcissism really is – a diagnosable condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which can bring huge challenges during a divorce, if your former partner has this condition. People who are not narcissists can display similar behaviours, often because they are hurting or angry, which can also lead to a higher conflict divorce. Either way a former partner may wish to punish you if they think the marriage breakdown is your fault, or simply want your attention, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative.
How to stay one step ahead
It’s important that you stick to the facts and issues which are important to you. Don’t be distracted or drawn into emotive matters and those which your lawyer advises aren’t worth bothering with. This is known as the ‘grey rock’ strategy. By sticking to the facts and keeping communication short, you won’t be feeding a need for drama and attention.
Try not to react to situations. Your former partner may try and draw you into arguments and attempt to twist any response you provide. Take a step back and allow yourself time before responding to communications so that you have a clear mind. You do not want to get caught in the same pattern of behaviour or say something you would later regret and which they could try and use against you.
Keep accurate records of everything. People with NPD have a tendency to lie, and many create a variety of stories which are not true in order to get their way yet could be believed by the courts or other professionals, particularly when they’re very adept at flattery and building people up. This can be in the form of a diary or notebook for you to write down the dates and times of when certain events happened. These records can be extremely useful when recalling events and situations, which have occurred when required for the family court.
If you can, hire a specialist family lawyer who has experience of representing clients through high conflict divorce and whose former partners have traits of NPD. It isn’t possible for a family lawyer to diagnose or assess if your ex has NPD, but warning signs from your relationship may indicate that there is an increased risk of a higher conflict divorce if specific strategies are not employed by you and your lawyer during the process. A specialist family lawyer will aim to ensure that you stay one step ahead, create a comprehensive strategy and remain focused on achieving the best possible outcome. Whether your ex has been diagnosed with NPD or displays traits of NPD, make sure you tell your lawyer as they may employ a different strategy knowing at the outset there is a real likelihood of high conflict.
If someone has not been formally diagnosed with NPD, care is still needed in the approach as the traits being displayed may be due to mental health struggles or other personality disorders. It is important to obtain advice from a specialist family lawyer because if you assert someone has NPD when they in fact do not, this could impact your own position in the family court. Thought should therefore be given as to whether to seek an assessment report.
Make sure you have a strong support network as the process can take its toll emotionally. In addition to the care from trusted friends and family (although check with your lawyer what you are able to disclose, as family court proceedings are private), there are also specialist therapists, counsellors, divorce accountants and divorce coaches who can support you through a high conflict divorce.
Lastly, don’t assume that court is the only answer. Hybrid mediation (where you attempt to reach an agreement with the support of your respective lawyers) can be an effective tool to negotiate and avoid court. When negotiating, it’s important to be clear about what you really need following your divorce, not just what you are legally entitled to. Litigation is costly and stressful and if your ex is determined to fight, you need to know where your bottom line is. It is also advisable to speak to an independent financial advisor, to help assess your needs.