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Specialty tag(s): High Conflict Divorce

What You Need to Know Before You File for Divorce from a Narcissist

Thomas A. Greenwald | August 24, 2022

Senior woman smiling while looking at documents

Divorcing a person with a high conflict personality, including narcissism or narcissistic traits often poses a unique set of circumstances. Individuals with narcissistic traits often have an inflated sense of self and have a tremendous need to control the situation. They are rigid thinkers and often need to be right on everything, and will only solve issues if they are solved their way. When they do not get their way they often escalate the emotion of the situation in an effort to manipulate the people around them. They often lack the ability to feel remorse, are unable to see their fault in a situation, and lack insight into how their own behavior has contributed to or caused conflict.

If you are considering filing for divorce, and your partner exhibits narcissistic traits, take their traits into account and engage a team that understands narcissistic traits as you begin planning to file for divorce. Often divorces that involve a narcissist spouse can become high conflict. What you do before filing for a divorce can greatly impact the divorce, and your quality of life during the divorce process.

Make A Plan

People who have narcissistic traits need to have complete control of their world. If you do not have a plan before you file for divorce, your spouse will most certainly try to plan for you. Consider the possible life changes that are about to occur, and think about how YOU would like to navigate them. You cannot guarantee things will always go as planned, but you can certainly chart a course to minimize stress, conflict, and the outcome of your case.

Begin planning who will be your support team. Who will be your lawyer, your therapist? Do they understand narcissism and how to approach a narcissist? Where will you live once you file for divorce? Do you have a bank account in your name? Do you have credit in your name? Who is your safety net, those who you can call if you are struggling and just need someone to talk to, or need help when you are running late for a child’s baseball practice, or need a place to stay for a few days? Consult with your lawyer to know what decision need to be made in the short term and long term before you file for divorce. This will allow you set expectations and avoid surprises.

Write Out Your Goals and Expectations:

When the divorce is over, what is most important to you that you have in your life? Maybe you would like custody of the children or you would like ensure that you and the children are financially secure. Maybe it is important that the children stay in the same school. If child custody is not an issue, maybe you are primarily concerned about maintaining your lifestyle, being financially secure in the future, protecting assets, or tracking down missing funds. These are your goals. Take a moment to consider if your goals are realistic, and whether some are more important to you than others. Your lawyer will help you approach the divorce in a way that will help you meet these goals.

Just as you consider your goals, it is also important to consider your expectations for how your spouse will approach the divorce. Narcissistic people are fueled by the reactions of others. They crave admiration, and obsess over being right in everyone’s minds. Considering how they might act based on their tendencies will help you cope when their behavior is hurtful or illogical. How do you think they will react when you file? Should you tell your spouse about the fling in advance? What will their triggers be? Share these things with your lawyer as you work together to develop a plan as you move forward.

Gather Documents and Information

As a person with narcissism loses their sense of control in one area in life, they often seek to control other areas. Once a partner files for divorce, it is not uncommon for things to go missing, or for a partner to refuse to provide certain information. While your lawyer may obtain these things during the divorce, it is often easier to gather documents and information before filing for divorce.
Your lawyer can also help you identify documents and information you may want to gather prior to filing for divorce. Below is a brief list of documents you may wish to gather before filing for divorce:

  • Financial and Other Information: tax returns, account statements, retirement statements, credit card statements, real estate documents, text messages, emails, proof of gifts received during marriage, proof of inheritance, proof of property owned before marriage, recordings, photographs, calendars, personal journals, and diaries;
  • Sentimental Items: family heirlooms, personal memorabilia, and children’s property and memorabilia; and
  • Family Document: Passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates, and wills.

One of the most important factors to consider when divorcing a narcissist is to have a team around you (i.e., lawyer and therapist) that understands narcissism and divorce. The approach that many lawyers take that, “This is always the way we do it…” does not work when the opposing party has narcissistic traits, and and it is important that your team understands the fact that people with narcissistic traits do not react the way many other people do in a divorce situation. With a plan and the understanding of an informed support team, you will move through this process of a divorce with confidence one measured step at a time.

To learn more about how our firm can help you, contact Thomas A. Greenwald at (214) 473-9696.

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