Divorce is already stressful enough. If you’re waging a custody battle on top of that—a custody battle with a narcissist, no less—then it can be absolutely overwhelming. This is new, scary territory, and your children are on the line. It can be the most difficult ordeal of your life.
Narcissistic behavior is often no-holds-barred self-serving conduct that makes it harder for others to prevail by sticking to the rules. Many times, narcissists will do anything they think they can get away with to advance their cause. This might include:
- Personal attacks and insults
- Legal, financial, and personal threats against you or others you care about
- Gaslighting and other forms of psychological manipulation
- Attempting to turn others against you
- A willingness to spend considerable money to get what they want
The good news is that there are professionals who deal with these disputes every day, and they know how to win a custody battle against a narcissist. They can help you, and they’re your first stop on the road to making it through this crisis.
Hire an Experienced Attorney Who Specializes in Family Law
Fighting a custody battle with a narcissist is a dangerous turning point in your journey as a parent. You’re likely to be facing lies, personal attacks, emotional manipulation, and a two-faced adversary who will often appear perfectly reasonable to outsiders while being awful to anyone under their power.
The stakes couldn’t be higher: your children. A custody battle with a narcissist is an emergency because if the other parent is truly unwell, then losing custody to them could have a disastrous impact on your children’s development and wellbeing.
Don’t waste any time: hire an experienced family law attorney immediately. Look for someone who makes you comfortable, and who can explain the details and the process thoroughly, but in a language you understand. Talk to a few different attorneys in your area before you make a choice. And if you live somewhere remote, look in the big city to widen your options.
Build a Plan, Ideally with the Best Odds of Success
Winning a custody battle with a narcissist requires careful planning. Once you settle on an attorney, the two of you will sit down together, identify the outcome you want, and develop a plan for building your case and presenting it to the court. You may also wish to pursue a temporary order as a way to limit what your ex-spouse can do while the case is pending.
Next, it’s important to understand that most custody disputes end with some form of joint custody. When you think about how to “win” a custody battle against a narcissist, keep in mind that “winning” may or may not mean “sole custody.” That will depend on your specific situation. If you do end up pursuing joint custody, check out our blog on co-parenting versus parallel parenting.
The ultimate consideration in building your case is the wellbeing of your kids. That’s what the court is going to look at. If you’re demanding sole custody and the court doesn’t see that it’s justified, the judge might think you’re in it to punish your spouse rather than protect your kids.
This does happen sometimes. There’s a lot of anger in these cases, and if you’re in a custody battle with a narcissist you might feel that the dispute is absolutely clear cut in your favor, when actually it isn’t. Your attorney will guide you through all of this, and, when they lay out your options, they will likely recommend an outcome that has the best chance of success in court, even if it isn’t the most perfect outcome from your point of view. The final choice is yours, but you should consider their advice closely.
(We also recommend you check out our blog on this topic: “My Attorney and I Aren’t on the Same Page—What Now?”)
Gather Hard Evidence and Support
When you’re in a custody battle with a narcissist, it’s important to keep an objective point of view. The court isn’t going to see you the way you see yourself. Instead, the court has a legal responsibility to be impartial and look at all sides equally, letting the evidence and the circumstances determine the best course of action.
According to FindLaw, these are the most important factors that a court looks at when deciding custody:
- The financial health and physical ability of each parent to care for the children.
- The wishes of both parents, and the wishes of the children if they are old enough.
- The medical and psychologicalhealthh of all parties.
- The level of hardship that would be imposed upon the children in any scenario.
- Each parent's willingness to support the children's relationship with the other parent.
- Warning signs such as criminal history, substance abuse problems, etc.
Similarly, a court isn’t going to automatically accept your claim that you are locked in a custody battle with a narcissist. They are going to want to see evidence that the other parent’s behavior is adverse to the children’s interests and development.
Creating video or audio recordings isn’t necessarily a good idea, and in some cases it isn’t even legal. Instead, one great step you can take is to create a journal. Every time your former spouse has an altercation with you or the kids that you see as hurtful to the children’s wellbeing, you should write down the time and date, and give an honest account of what happened. The judge will read these materials and consider them carefully.
Stay Professional Even When They Don’t
Narcissists really know how to stir up trouble. It’s a way of diverting from the real issue. So the key in how to win a custody battle against a narcissist is behaving yourself, staying on-script, and avoiding getting into arguments and pointless confrontations.
(For more, see our blog on co-parenting with a narcissist.)
Narcissists will try to undermine you however they can. They are frighteningly good at getting under other people’s skin when they want to. And when it’s a spouse, they know all your secrets and all your buttons. A custody battle with a narcissist can be painfully personal, humiliating, and raw. They’ll draw out your anger if you let them. They might be secretly recording your interactions with them or the kids.
The critical advice here is: don’t fall to their level. Stay professional, even when they don’t. The court will look at your behavior very closely.
Understand that Narcissists Are Mentally Ill
In psychology, narcissism is a trait that falls on a spectrum; Everyone has at least some narcissistic tendencies, and some of us have more than others. For most of us this isn’t a problem and is actually a good thing. Psychology Today, writing about the healthy side of narcissism, notes that healthy levels of narcissistic thinking can provide self-confidence, courage, and independence.
It is only when these traits become so excessive that they interfere with a person’s ability to function normally in their day-to-day life that narcissistic personality disorder develops. That’s when a person becomes a “narcissist.”
By definition, narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition. A custody battle with a narcissist more likely means that you’re fighting with a sick person than a cunning genius. When you understand that their efforts to control the situation and hurt you are a symptom of their sickness, it can become easier to deal with.
Don’t Drag Your Kids into the Fight
One of the worst things you can do in a custody battle with a narcissist is drag your kids into the fight. Your children should never become a weapon against your spouse. They are vulnerable and probably even more distressed about the custody battle than you are.
With that in mind, don’t coach them to hate their other parent. A court can sniff that out. Even if it doesn’t, that’s not a healthy way to parent.
Instead, do a lot of listening. Hear them out. Let them vent their frustrations and fears to you. Learn what their point of view is, and ask what their wishes are. When you do speak, always aim to reassure them of their safety and the fact that they are loved.
Lastly, this is another area where you shouldn’t go it alone: set up appointments for them with a counselor, too, where they can speak (alone, even from you) about what’s on their mind.
The Bottom Line of Winning a Custody Battle with a Narcissist
If we boiled it all down to one basic rule: show that you’re a good parent.
Show that you’re mentally, physically, and economically fit to take care of the child. To the extent you’re able, show that the other parent isn’t fit by comparison. Stick to your plan and stay professional even when your ex-spouse is trying to drag you down into the mud. Listen to your lawyer’s advice. Respect the authority of the court. Lastly, you keep your children’s wellbeing front and center at all times.
It’s not easy, but that’s how you win a custody battle against a narcissist.
About the Author:
Alfredo Ramos is a writer specializing in issues important to parents and families - leveraging his experience in divorce, adoption, and other cases through work with the Ramos Law Group. In the past, he has served in the US Navy as the Medical Department Head with the primary mission of mobilization readiness of reserve personnel.