Divorcing a Narcissist with Child Custody Disputed | Part 6


The Complete Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist is a seven part series. Divorcing a Narcissist with Child Custody Disputed is part Six. See below for links to the remaining parts. Unwritten child custody rules. Protect your child from a narcissistic parent. Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist. Defend against false accusations of parental alienation.

With any custody case, parents find themselves on a steep learning curve. When one parent is a narcissist, the game becomes far more serious. More than anything, the narcissist wants control, and they will attempt to use the child and the court proceedings to get it.

Unwritten Child Custody Rules

In your case against the narcissistic parent, learn all the unwritten rules of custody disputes. There are many. Follow those rules to the letter. Discuss particular points with your lawyer. Tell your lawyer what you believe the other parent will claim you have done, whether it’s true or not.

Those unwritten custody rules include the following:

  1. Never ask your child to spy or report on the other parent.
  2. Never ask your child to deliver messages, especially about child support.
  3. Never discuss the legal case with your child. Never complain to your child about the divorce or the other parent. Don’t speak with your lawyer where the child may overhear the conversation.
  4. While the case is progressing, see every school grade from every test, quiz, and paper. Don’t just look at final grades. Note any problem areas. During your parenting time, make sure the child is well-prepared for tests, quizzes, reading assignments, and projects.
  5. Schedule and attend parent-teacher conferences and school open-houses without fail.
  6. Make sure that every time your child is with you, you know exactly what assignments and long-term projects are due and when. Supervise your child in getting the assignments and projects done. Do not leave the education aspect of parenting wholly up to the other parent, even if you do not have legal decision-making authority.
  7. Communicate with the other parent regularly about your child’s schoolwork. Assume the other parent is trying to damage your case by setting you up for failure on some schoolwork, paper, project, test, or quiz.
  8. Judges assume parents who are contesting custody realize they should be on their best behavior. Act accordingly. Always assume you are being recorded, photographed, or videotaped by the other parent – even in your own home. You can easily be recorded in-person and over the phone with small, simple, readily available, voice-activated digital recorders.
  9. If you ever have a choice between spending time with your child and doing anything else, then doing anything else loses. Always avoid leaving your child with a babysitter, especially for long periods of time. When a babysitter is required for lengthy periods of time, discuss options with your lawyer.
  10. Save all texts, email, and recorded phone messages. You never know when something may be important or give you negotiating leverage.
  11. Assume the information on your computer or your cell phone will be retrieved. This includes any files you deleted. Hard drives or back-up drives can be removed, copied, and returned in your absence without your knowledge. And some cell phone companies provide online access to text messages.
  12. Do not text or email when you’re angry. Everything you write or type may be taken out-of-context and twisted. In fact, try to write as little as possible.
  13. At your child’s school, meet, get to know, email, and speak face-to-face with every teacher, principal, tutor, coach, and counselor as often as you can. Period. No exceptions. Be friendly to them.
  14. Do not date. Never expose your child to your boyfriend or girlfriend until after the divorce is granted.
  15. To the extent humanly possible, try to attend every doctor’s appointment. Note any health problems. Should your child end up in the ER while with the other parent, get there as fast as you possibly can. Do not expect the other parent to simply handle it alone.
  16. Take your children to the dentist. Again, note any problems and address those problems immediately.
  17. Never smoke or drink in the presence of children. While the accusation may seem petty to some, one never knows how a judge may react.  Best to avoid the potential problem.

While some unwritten rules may not necessarily apply in your jurisdiction, there are many more to learn from your child custody lawyer. Learn them all, especially those unique to your specific judge.

You will need to create a plan for offence, for proving what the other parent has done or has failed to do. You also need to create a plan for defense, for defending against the claims the other party has made against you.

Lastly, in every situation let three tips be your guide:

  • When it comes to custody, know that hope is not a strategy.
  • Documentation is generally more impactful than testimony.
  • Avoid “he said, she said” disputes whenever possible. Make notes. Keep documents, e-mail, and texts.

Protect your child from a narcissistic parent

What financial strategy works against a narcissist?

Protect your child from a narcissistic parent.

Whatever the status of your custody case, expect the narcissist to deliberately provoke you and attempt to use your child and the legal proceedings to do it. There are many steps you can take to protect your child from the toxic environment created by the narcissistic parent. Starting with these:

  1. Arrange professional counseling or therapy for your child.

Children of divorce benefit from counseling or therapy, particularly those with narcissistic parents. Let your child meet safely to talk freely with a caring professional trained to work with kids. Request court-ordered counseling or therapy in the best interests of the child.

  1. Exercise restraint. Control your emotions.

Falling apart in front of your children may cause them lasting harm. Nor is it helpful for you to implode or explode in the presence of the judge, mediator, independent child custody evaluator, or your narcissistic spouse. Consider divorce counseling for yourself.

  1. Seek a child custody evaluation. [i]

With an adult narcissist, there are significant concerns about the child’s welfare and possible parental alienation. Learn everything you can about narcissism in parental alienation cases. Request an independent child custody evaluation be conducted to help the court determine what is in your child’s best interest. The evaluation will be completed by a licensed mental health professional trained to identify emotional, psychological, and physical abuse, among other things.

  1. Get safe now. [ii]

If the other parent threatens you or your child, then call the police. Find a shelter. Consider getting a restraining order.

  1. Minimize communication with the narcissistic parent.

Co-parenting requires regular communication with the narcissistic parent. You can and should control the method of communication and limit interactions during parenting time. Use a co-parenting app as a “go between.” Generally, these apps let parents communicate, document events, time and date stamp all entries, schedule visitation, and calendar every aspect of custody and parenting time.

  1. Include a non-disparagement clause in the parenting plan agreement.

This means each parent agrees to not disparage the other parent to the child or in the child’s presence. Include a prohibition on angry adult outbursts toward the child, too. Have some penalty the court can enforce for violating the agreement’s terms, such as losing educational decision-making.

  1. Prohibit corporal punishment in the parenting plan agreement.

This regulates parental discipline of the child. It’s particularly important with any history of domestic violence or abuse.

  1. Supervised visitation.

The court can order supervised visitation for the narcissist’s parenting time. If professional monitoring is needed, then ask the court to make the other party pay for it.

  1. Document everything.

Never stop documenting events. Always keep your parenting journal up to date. Narcissists never stop, so neither can you.  Parental agreements mean little to a narcissist, so always seek to obtain court orders that can be enforced.

Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

Tips for Co-Parenting with a Narcissist

You have two goals when trying to co-parent with a narcissist:

  • The first goal is to stay out of court.
  • The second goal is to keep your sanity.

Here are few tips to help you accomplish both.

  1. Accept that you are not a parenting team.

Ordinary people learn to co-parent their children for the sake of their children. But narcissists are not ordinary people. Narcissists are incapable of co-parenting. They will disagree on every point just to get a reaction, just to be contrary, just to create drama.

Recognize that you cannot solve the main problem which is co-parenting with a narcissist. Accept what you cannot change. You can only manage your situation day-to-day by doing the best you can.

Bend but never break. Talk with your experienced family law attorney. Ask for tips specific to your situation. Family lawyers are uniquely qualified to help.

  1. Defend against false accusations of parental alienation.

Some narcissistic parents make false accusations of parental alienation against the responsible parent. Reality does not matter to the narcissist. Despite a demonstrable track record of primary caregiving, a common tactic for a narcissist is to point the finger at the other parent and decry “exclusionary tactics!”

For example, a narcissist who never once communicated with the child’s homeroom teacher will brazenly claim not to have received the teacher’s email address, or parent-teacher conference schedule, or homeroom activities calendar. Audacious? Yes. You must flip that script!

  1. Provide the narcissistic parent with all the information and documentation about the child.

Use a co-parenting app to communicate so that every message is date-and-time stamped. Provide all necessary login access to the school’s website, schedules, sports coach contact information, and the like. Inform the narcissist parent about every doctor and dentist visit. If the narcissist actually starts attending, great! Smile and act as though all is right with the world.

  1. Adopt an efficient filing system.

Documentation is essential. Keep copies of every paper, communiqué, journal entry, receipt, and so on. For the sake of efficiency, and preserving your sanity, set-up a filing system that makes retrieval easy. You can never know with certainty what might be important in your case.

  1. Choose your battles wisely.

You’re in this for the long haul. The court has continuing jurisdiction over the custody case until your youngest child emancipates or turns 18 (possibly age 19 depending on high school graduation). Pace yourself and focus on what is most important, but never let your guard down.

  1. Talk to your attorney about obtaining sole legal custody.

Generally, shared legal custody is favored over sole legal decision-making. To make a case for sole legal custody, you will need a legal strategy supported by evidence of the narcissist’s consistent bad parenting. This may take a long time. It means documenting incident after incident to show the narcissistic parent’s inability to co-parent. For example, the narcissistic parent’s failure, again and again, to take any action when the child’s doctor recommended swift medical treatment.

  1. Consider counseling with a mental health professional who is very familiar with the legal system.

Find someone who can advise you on how to circumnavigate the narcissist’s inevitable baiting. A little sage advice can be a lifesaver.

You also need to give yourself some grace, especially if you recently exited an abusive relationship with a deep narcissist. To be the healthy parent you need to be, work with your counselor to eliminate the last vestiges of self-doubt and start rebuilding self-confidence and self-worth.

Be mindful, not emotional or reactive. Learn meditation and calming techniques to reduce stress, such as deep-breathing exercises.

  1. Consider hiring a divorce coach.

An experienced divorce coach will know the court system, how family law cases proceed, and how narcissistic parties are likely to behave at any particular stage of the case. This can be very helpful in dealing with the narcissist’s tactics.

  1. Establish boundaries.

Your child should feel safe and secure when with you. Set appropriate boundaries to keep your child free from the abusive emotional behavior coming from the narcissist.

Limit interaction with the narcissistic parent during your parenting time. When your child is with the other parent and calls you, avoid being pulled into a tug-of-war with the narcissist. Unless it’s an emergency, stay away from and out of the narcissist’s home.

  1. Maintain a stable, healthy relationship with your child.

Be the stable, nurturing parent your child always turns to. Your stability will help counter the bad, reactive, controlling behavior coming from the narcissistic parent.

Show how you appreciate your child’s unique qualities. Help your child develop healthy relationships and become independent. Be a model of social intelligence so your child learns to interact with other people in a positive way.

Talk openly and reasonably with your child without ever criticizing the other parent. Children need to know that they are not at fault for adult problems and are much loved. Validate what your child is feeling because of what the narcissistic parent said or did, but do not pity or feel sorry for your child. Do not make the child a permanent victim.

Be a model of normal emotional intelligence. Teach your child what healthy behavior is and is not. Show your child right from wrong.

  1. Be businesslike with the narcissistic parent.

Make co-parenting with the narcissist a business matter and nothing more. Be efficient, be direct, be businesslike. Just as you would be at the workplace.

For example, always dissect the narcissist’s email messages and respond only to those questions that require an answer. Skim the email, skip all the nasty hurtful stuff, and identify the pertinent questions posed. Respond to those questions only. Ignore everything else.

Likewise, never use email to convey how you feel to the narcissist. No emojis either. Doing so provides narcissistic supply and invites more abuse. Narcissists feed on attention – positive or negative. If you give it, then the narcissistic parent will come back for more. This need for attention can never be satisfied.

  1. Adhere to the parenting plan agreement.

Always comply with the terms of your parenting plan agreement. No matter what the narcissistic parent tries to finagle out of you, point to the relevant provision of the parenting agreement and stick to it. There is no co-parenting with a narcissist. Your attempts at being flexible and cooperative over parenting time exchanges, for example, will merely up-the-ante for the narcissistic parent.

  1. Learn your state’s child custody laws.

Learn about sole and joint custody, legal decision-making, parenting time, visitation, and child support. Learn your court system. Familiarize yourself with the people involved in child custody cases – the judges, child’s attorneys, guardians ad litem, evaluators, mediators, and parenting coordinators. All these people are in a position to influence your case.

  1. Let narcissists expose who they really are to the court.

There will be opportunities to expose the other parent as a narcissist to third parties. Narcissists do not care about their children’s best interests. All they genuinely care about is winning.  It may take time.  Be very patient.

An experienced attorney will create opportunities for the narcissist to expose his or her true nature in the presence of the very people who directly influence your case. Namely the judge, independent child custody evaluator, mediator, child’s attorney, guardian ad litem, or parenting coordinator.

First, learn what narcissistic parents commonly do at each stage of the custody proceedings. Learn to spot these behaviors and the circumstances when they’re most likely to occur.

Second, be vigilant about collecting evidence that shows the other parent exhibiting narcissistic characteristics.

Third, allow the other parent to display these narcissistic characteristics in front of the person who has direct authority over the case.

View more of our series, Complete Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist:

  1. Stages of Divorcing a Narcissist
  2. Divorce with Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  3. How To Divorce a Narcissist and Win
  4. Financial Strategies for Divorcing a Narcissist
  5. How to Negotiate a Divorce Settlement with a Narcissist
  6. Divorcing a Narcissist with Child Custody Disputed
  7. Divorcing a Female Narcissist

More resources on Divorcing a Narcissist:

  1. Divorcing the Narcissist – Our original post describing the clinical definition and general introduction.
  2. Financial Abuse, Narcissists & Money: A Divorce Lawyer’s Perspective – Mason’s popular video sharing his experiences and thoughts.
  3. Divorcing a Narcissist: Six Family Lawyers’ Advice – Six nationally recognized family lawyers discuss their experiences and advice.
  4. Finding a Divorce Lawyer Who Can Handle Opposing a Narcissist – Mason’s thoughts on what divorcing spouses should look for.

End Notes:

[i] Divorcing? Tennessee Parents Prepare for Child Custody Forensic Evaluations.

[ii] Domestic Violence and Tennessee Divorce Law.

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