Navigating Child Custody With a Narcissist

A child hugging a parent with the words, "navigating child custody with a narcissist."

She thought the divorce would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. The judge had granted her and her ex-husband joint custody of their child. Every other week, she loaded her kids up in the car and took them to their father’s house. She waved to them bravely as they got out of the car. They were too young to understand the emotional games he played. 

For now, her children’s father provided them with unconditional love. But what about when they got older? When their minds and characters were more developed, would they be able to see behind the manipulation tactics their father used? Would he continue to subject them to it? Or would he continue to only torment her with passive-aggressive texts and threats? 

She thought it would stop. But it was only the beginning.

The Harsh Reality of Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

Many parents face a harsh reality every day—their partner suffers from a personality disorder known as narcissism. On the surface, people with narcissistic personality disorder appear charming, caring, and confident. However, the closer one gets to a narcissist, the more the fairy tale begins to fade into a nightmare. They use emotional manipulation to get what they want and exude control over all facets of their life, including their loved ones.

While divorcing a narcissist is extremely difficult, trying to co-parent with one can be even more so. Individuals suffering from narcissism are often inflexible and highly defensive, and they tend to manage the situation in unhealthy ways, such as getting their children to take their side. They will push boundaries, give the cold shoulder, and parent with less structure and empathy, leaving your children confused.

Figuring out how to deal with a narcissistic parent during a child custody case can be difficult. Alison Grant, Attorney at Law has been Lewisville, Texas, and the surrounding areas’ go-to resource for all family law services. She has helped countless families find the best course of action to protect their kids during and after child custody disputes. Today, her team discusses best practices on how to deal with a narcissistic parent during a child custody case.

What Is Narcissism?

A child miserable between their father and mother.

Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance. People with narcissism have an excessive need for admiration and attention, and they often lack empathy for others. 

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder often have an inflated sense of their abilities and achievements and believe that they are especially special and unique compared to others. They constantly seek validation and praise from others and will struggle when someone contradicts their self-view to the point where they may emotionally abuse or put down anyone who they feel doesn’t support them.

How Can I Recognize an Individual With Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Signs of narcissism include:

  • They display arrogant attitudes and behaviors.
  • They take advantage of others to get what they want.
  • They believe that they are unique or special.
  • They exaggerate their achievements and talents.
  • They have an excessive need for admiration.
  • They feel envy towards others or think others envy them.
  • They lack empathy.
  • They are obsessed with fantasies of brilliance, power, or success.
  • They have a strong sense of entitlement.

Child Custody Battles With a Narcissist

Individuals who find themselves in a custody battle with a narcissist need to be extremely careful when moving forward. Odds are, the narcissist will be trying to paint you as the bad guy and them as the only thing that is keeping your child sane and safe. They will twist the truth to favor their worldview, so it is important to stay calm and stick with the facts. Do not fall for their emotional game.

Be Ready For Anything

Child on a swing, inbetween her divorced parents

During child custody battles, a narcissist will try to manipulate the facts to support their view and show that all of the issues in your marriage and with the child stem from you. They are good at finding loopholes, talking in circles, and muddling the truth.

They also tend to be charming and can show a saint-like public appearance to get others on their side. Even judges or law professionals who are not used to handling narcissists can be fooled by this persona.

Your ex will bring their best behavior to the custody dispute. You must stay calm, be yourself, and not fall for this game. They will attack your character, life choices, parenting ability, and anything else that will show you as weak, vulnerable, or irritable. Stay calm and remember that anything they say or do is not a reflection of you but of themselves.

Document All Communication and Interactions

Narcissists are great at making a strong first impression, but as soon as they get comfortable with those around them, the walls of this facade begin to fade. As their ex-spouse, you probably know firsthand the verbal, emotional, and sometimes physical abuse that they use to control others. 

By documenting all interactions you have with your ex-spouse, you can show the reality of their behavior. Do this by keeping copies of the following:

If there are any witnesses to your ex’s behavior, ask them to provide a statement or act as a witness on the stand to share their story. This will paint a clear picture of what your spouse is like behind closed doors.

Alison Grant, Attorney at Law Pro-Tip: Document What They Don’t Do

What  person does and does not do says a lot about them as an individual and as a parent. Make sure to document examples of things they don’t do or say, such as:

  • Missing parent-teacher conferences consistently.
  • Missing or refusing to take their children to doctor’s appointments.
  • Missing birthdays and birthday parties.
  • Refusing to go to sports games or school plays the child may be in.

You can ask for documentation or statements from coaches, teachers, or other relevant witnesses who know of your ex’s absence in their child’s life.

Remember to Remain Calm and Stick With the Facts

A narcissist will try to get you to react negatively to what they are saying or doing to shift blame onto you. Remember to stay calm, not to engage in arguments with them, and to stick with the facts. 

Narcissists are masters at pulling individuals into conflict and making them feel emotional. When you’re emotional, you tend to make mistakes that the narcissist will then use against you in court. 

If you need to talk with your ex-spouse in the middle of the case, do so with your attorney present. It is so easy to go into a fight and protect mode because your child is involved, but as soon as you start playing their game, you lose.

Parents talking with teenage boy

What If The Child Custody Case Ends in Joint Custody?

The courts always try to do what is best for your child. In most cases, this results in the custody of the child being split between both parents to ensure that they can have a healthy relationship with both.

If this is your situation, there are some ways to protect you and your child. Here are some tips on how to successfully deal with joint custody with a narcissist.

  • Create a detailed parenting plan as part of the court orders and stick to it: This will allow you to set firm boundaries that are supported by the courts.
    • The plan should include the following:
      • Child-rearing guidelines such as discipline, bedtimes, curfews, screen time, etc.
      • Decision-making rules for your child’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing.
      • Rules outlining communication about the other spouse in front of the child, communication between each other, and the forbidding of trying to use the child to relay information to each other.
  • Create a detailed parenting schedule: This will outline how much time and when the child will be with either parent.
  • Set firm communication boundaries: Outline when, how, and why you and your spouse will communicate. This will help cut down on unwanted or unhealthy communication from your ex.
  • Continue to document everything: It is important to keep track of all communication and interactions to ensure that your ex does not try to make a false statement or get the court orders modified to hurt or manipulate you.
  • Be emotionally available for your child: Your child is going through a lot of changes and you can be sure that the narcissistic parent will not prioritize their emotional needs. Because of this, you will need to step up to ensure that your child can express how they feel without judgment around you. It is also recommended to get your child mental health counseling so they have the tools to handle the situation.

Having the Right Child Custody Lawyer Makes All the Difference

One of the most important ways you can protect yourself and your child during a child custody battle with a narcissistic parent is by finding a skilled family law attorney. The team at Alison Grant, Attorney at Law is dedicated to ensuring the best possible outcome for you and your child. We fight hard to show the full picture of what happened and not what your spouse wants the court to think. Contact us today for more information on our family law services or to schedule a consultation to go over your case.

Read Our Latest Articles: