“Whereas victims rarely know how to use the law in their favor, the aggressor instinctively deploys the necessary maneuvers. Abusive behavior can be used to find fault in a divorce action. But how can one keep track of guilt by innuendo?”
–Marie-France Hirigoyen, Stalking the Soul; Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity.
You know you’re co-parenting with a narcissist. You saw from Part I of this article that perhaps your ex-spouse evades direct questions regarding the children, your ex distorts language and uses innuendo, he or she lies, he or she uses sarcasm, ridicule, contempt and paradox, he or she pits the children against you or against each other, and your ex attempts to dominate you and/or your children.
Unfortunately, many times there is no meaningful co-parenting with narcissists. He or she probably does not have the same parenting instincts as you do. There is no concept of teamwork or cooperation. Many times, children are just the pawns in the narcissist’s quest to dominate and control.
But what can be done? I often hear from people that they are no match for their ex-spouse when it comes to custody or co-parenting. He or she is simply far too charismatic; the judge or expert will never see through that act. Worse yet, As Hirigoyen points out, a narcissist is adept at using the Court system to his or her advantage and will capitalize on every one of your perceived weaknesses in order to gain a win.
Rest assured, however, there are strategies that can help when it comes to being heard in Court or in an evaluation with a custody expert. Here are some that I have found are helpful for my clients:
1. Document Everything: For example, keep a calendar of every time your ex canceled parenting time. This will help you when your ex alleges that it was your attempts at alienation that caused him or her to miss out on time with the child. Remember, narcissists are masters of mirroring – labeling the victim as the aggressor to deflect attention from their own wrongdoing.
2. Communicate in Writing: Email or text. Avoid phone calls. This will help you prove a pattern of conduct. Otherwise, litigation may devolve into a he-said, she-said exercise. The judge won’t know who to believe. Evidence in black and white provides more insight into who may be at fault.
3. Do Not Engage: The narcissist loves to engage with you in order to keep a strong hold. This is not to say that you should just roll over and accept the narcissist’s abuse. It means that you need to identify the narcissism and accept that the narcissist says or does certain things as a result. Let the digs wash over you assuming they don’t materially affect you or your children. Focus on providing a loving and healthy environment for your children when they are with you.
4. Stick to the Schedule: Because narcissists view isolated incidents as global issues, if you change the schedule just a couple of times, in their mind you will “always” be changing things around. Likewise, don’t make a habit of providing makeup time every time the narcissist does not show up. They thrive on last-minute schedule changes to create chaos. Don’t enable him or her by accommodating every unreasonable request.
5. Seek the Advice of Professionals: If you have children with a narcissist, you are going to need long-term strategies to cope with the difficulties inherent in your daily life. Family therapists, Law Guardians or Forensic Psychologists can be extremely helpful in navigating these types of issues.
Co-parenting with a narcissist can seem like an exercise in futility. However, with these strategies, you may be able to minimize some of the conflict and move on with your life.
Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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