How to Negotiate a Divorce Settlement with a Narcissist | Part 5


The Complete Guide to Divorcing a Narcissist is a seven part series. How to Negotiate a Divorce Settlement with a Narcissist is part Five.  8 Negotiation Tips for Divorcing the Narcissist. Negative negotiating tactics favored by narcissists.

Plan for a trial from Day 1 of divorcing your narcissist spouse. Prepare yourself emotionally for obstacles, mind games, deceptions, and delays.  Settlement negotiations require a different mindset.

Although settlement negotiations are part of every divorce, negotiating with a narcissist is profoundly challenging. Use the following divorce settlement tips, as well as the added pressure of a looming trial date, against the narcissist.

Rule #1: Patience Wins Divorce Negotiations

Work with your lawyer to determine exactly what your desired settlement looks like – both financially and with respect to your children. When the timing is right, be ready to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

Expect that the narcissist will do everything possible to destabilize your efforts. The mind games will continue unabated throughout the process. Be prepared. Engage a very, very experienced mediator. It may seem impossible, but even narcissists will settle. If your spouse will not settle, then you’re ahead of the game because you’ve already started preparing for trial.

Have a Plan for Divorce Mediation

Many divorcing spouses hesitate to mediate for fear of wasting time and money. After all, when has talking and seeking compromise ever worked with this narcissist in the past?

As a counterintuitive strategy, consider mediating early and often. Many experienced mediators who are also family lawyers have valuable experience working with and against narcissists. Some mediators go the extra mile to listen to every single word the narcissist feels must be said out loud before any consideration of an agreement will be had. Maybe the mediator can break through to the narcissistic spouse. When mediation results in a settlement, it’s almost always worth the time and expense invested. Even when mediation does not result in a settlement, at some point the case may settle because of the mediation.

8 Negotiation Tips for Divorcing the Narcissist

Negotiation Tips for Divorcing the Narcissist.

Negotiation Tips for Divorcing the Narcissist.

There are only two ways to get a divorce – settlement or trial. And settlement involves negotiation. Here are some important divorce negotiation tips:

  1. Be proactive.

Get a settlement drafted and prepared as soon as you have the information and documents you need. Then give the settlement proposal to the other side to consider. This makes you the initial offeror.

Issuing a settlement proposal at the earliest opportunity can create a settlement framework from the initial offeror’s perspective. When dealing with a narcissist, taking and keeping the settlement initiative can have a number of benefits, especially when the narcissist is trying to prevent progress towards trial.

Narcissism and settlement are conflicting concepts. The narcissistic spouse is not likely to concede anything. Temper any settlement expectations you may have accordingly. (Or ask for much more than you want so that you can settle for what you actually want.) At some point, the narcissist will accuse you of stalling and dragging out the divorce. When that happens, point out how you already made an offer of settlement. Where is the narcissist’s counter-offer?

  1. Be patient.

Patience wins divorce negotiations.

  1. Prepare emotionally for a long-distance run.

Your emotions will get the best of you at times, that’s only natural. Get your mind centered. Eat right. Exercise in moderation. Avoid alcohol and questionable behaviors. Say “No” to others except your children. Do not volunteer for projects which can distract your focus or run down your emotional batteries. Stay centered.

  1. Maintain perspective.

At mediation, don’t be emotionally invested in reaching a settlement that day. If there is going to be a settlement, then it may happen because of mediation. Your narcissist spouse may test you by making you sit through one or more days of mediation before he or she makes a settlement offer. This tactic is designed to wear you down. Don’t let it.

  1. Be engaged at all stages.

Your experienced family lawyer may have a particular negotiation style. Be sure to ask questions at every stage of the proceedings. Ask your attorney, “Why do you recommend this approach?” It may be difficult at times, but don’t sit back and let things happen around you. Stay engaged.

  1. To quote Robert Ludlum’s fictional character, Jason Bourne: “Sleep is a weapon.”

Divorce is a marathon and getting your sleep is an important weapon in your arsenal. No matter how difficult the war, get the rest you need so you are clear-headed when making decisions.

  1. Display positive body language.

Whenever your spouse sees you, always have positive body language.  Appear relaxed, confident, and patient.  Have good posture.  Any show of emotional hurt or negative body language fuels the narcissist. Even if frazzled to the core, never appear downtrodden, weak, or frustrated. With a little practice, you can learn to communicate positive non-verbal cues.[i]

  1. Stay focused on your case.

Are you wondering, “Is it my spouse or my spouse’s lawyer that’s responsible for this unprofessional, unreasonable behavior?” That is a question family lawyers often hear from their clients. Who is really in control of the other side? It is easy to blame the narcissist spouse.

Truth is, there is never a way to know exactly. Narcissists often seem to team-up with certain lawyers who also have very difficult personalities. The toxic nature of the resulting personality mix is disappointing at best and destructive at worst.

Because no one can know for sure who is pulling the strings on the other side, the best advice here is to disregard the question and don’t worry with the answer. This is something you and your attorney cannot control or even impact. Stay focused on what can be done and not done in your case.

Rule #2: Understand Machiavellian Negotiating Tactics

Narcissists love to embrace Machiavellian negotiating techniques – no matter how brutal, cruel, calculating, or immoral those techniques may seem.

The goal of these unfair and unreasonable negotiating tactics is to emotionally destabilize the opponent. Depending on their severity, unfair and unreasonable tactics rarely rise to the level of being unethical or in “bad faith.”

Depending on your state’s law, settlement negotiations are rarely admissible into evidence. This is because settlements are strongly encouraged in family law cases. Bullying divorce attorneys who represent narcissists know the use of negative negotiating tactics cannot be revealed to the court. The family lawyer facing these tactics must be able to identify them, explain what is being done, and explain their operations to the client.

Here are a few negative negotiating tactics favored by narcissists:

negative negotiating tactics favored by narcissists

Negative negotiating tactics favored by narcissists.

  • Exaggerating or Misrepresenting Facts During Negotiating.

Some posturing is normal from the opposing party and to be expected. But aggressive and excessive posturing is unprofessional and often counter-productive. This includes an attorney knowingly or negligently misrepresenting applicable law to the mediator.

  • Extreme Claims Followed by Small, Slow Concessions.

An unreasonable opening negotiating position is not unusual in family law. A return to reality is likely during negotiations, despite the nefarious party’s unreasonable opening position.

However, by continuing negotiations without entering into a reasonable settlement range, the nefarious party’s intent becomes clear – to waste time, exhaust energy, and deplete the other spouse’s available assets to pay ever-increasing attorney’s fees.

If faced with this tactic, then either offer a settlement in the reasonable settlement range or respond in kind.  Consider mirroring the narcissist’s own tactic.  Whatever your response, do not overreact.

  • “Take it or leave it” Offers.

This tactic usually communicates weak negotiating skills. Taking a hard-ball position, the narcissist plans that the demoralized spouse will fear getting nothing and surrender. Better family lawyers stay away from this stance.

Once a counter-offer is made, and the one who insisted “take it or leave it” doesn’t walk away when the response is to not take it, the hard-ball negotiator’s position is significantly weakened and can be exploited.

Chicago divorce attorney Steven N. Peskind adds:

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a client tell me that his or her spouse’s offer is non-negotiable and that if it is not accepted, the final settlement will result in much less than the magnanimous offer. Let your lawyer value what a fair settlement should be, not your abusive spouse. A good lawyer will know the value of a fair settlement and advise you on the pros and cons of various settlement options. And by the way, very few offers are truly non-negotiable.[ii]

  • “Backing Up.”

After obtaining a concession, the “backing up” tactic involves reversing an earlier agreement or changing a previously negotiated amount. “Saving room” means the client must not agree to the deal unless there is room to shave off additional money, anticipating the opposing party will attempt to renegotiate a material financial term even after the negotiating of financial terms is final.

One responsive measure to the narcissist’s “backing up” tactic is to demand “global settlement” exchanges, negotiating all terms at once.

  • Asking an Offeror to “Bid Against” a Previous Offer.

When a person has made a firm and complete offer, lawyers will often attempt to maneuver the offeror to amend the offer, making it sweeter, before responding.

Financial advisor Dave Ramsey teaches using this tactic to negotiate every day purchases by saying to the seller in a solemn voice: “You’ll have to do better than that.”

In divorce negotiations, the offeror on the receiving end of this tactic must discipline opposing counsel along these lines: “I have communicated an offer. It is complete and well-considered. Do you care to respond to it?”

  • Threats.

Threatening drastic consequences if demands are not met is a favorite of the family lawyer who is either emotionally involved in the case or watches too much TV.

Any lawyer, regardless of skill, can drag out a divorce case. To oppose these lawyers and forestall such threats, it may help to have a scheduling order in place with a trial date looming.

  • Mixed Signals and Red Herrings.

Changing one’s mind a couple of times in a divorce negotiation is predictable and understandable. However, changing one’s mind over and over or flip-flopping on important points adds a destabilizing element. Add a red herring to the mix and things get interesting.

In negotiation, red herrings are small issues which one party claims are extremely important. In actuality, these small issues mean very little. Here’s an example of a red herring:

One husband had an NFL Personal Seat License, or PSL, originally costing about $30,000. In negotiation, the wife demanded the PSL. The marital estate included several millions of dollars so replacing the PSL was not a problem. Except that this particular seat location was right in the middle of a dozen of the husband’s best friends and business associates. The wife never went to the games, which was one reason for the divorce, but she took her demand that she keep the PSL to the very end of negotiations.

  • Personal Insults and Attacks.

Being disagreeable and hurling unpleasantries directed at the attorney, client, expert, or other witness, is another negative negotiating tactic. The more-propertied spouse will almost always be more comfortable in a caustic environment where the lawyers spit at each other in correspondence, the court room, and settlement negotiations.

The lawyer representing the less-propertied spouse should always consider standing-up to these bullying tactics to be strong for their client, but that tactic must be measured against potentially fueling the unnecessarily toxic fire.

  • Time-Wasting Settlement Conferences.

As divorce lawyers, every now and then we are invited to attend an informal settlement conference in which the opposing side has absolutely no intention of negotiating a settlement. The goal of this tactic is to get the victim emotionally invested in the hope of a settlement.

This is like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown who desperately wants the kick. Expect the narcissist to act like a narcissist.

Those are only some of the Machiavellian negotiating techniques narcissists have available to them. And they will use them.

Rule #3:  Always avoid becoming emotionally invested in a settlement occurring at any particular moment.

Prepare for the unexpected. Understand the types of games played. If you know the game, then you are far less likely to be emotionally manipulated into an unfavorable settlement.

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] The Ultimate Guide to Body Language, by S.K. Whitbourne PhD, Psychology Today,

[ii] Divorcing the Deep Narcissist: Get Out of the Boiling Pot!, by S. Peskind, Esq.,

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