A new series of billboards targeting traffic into Downtown New Orleans’ Central Business District is causing a buzz in the Louisiana family court system. The billboards are located in a prime location directly across from the Superdome and the Smoothie King Center just before the business district and the convention center exits. The billboard campaign, which reads, “Family Court Judges: Do you know what Cluster B disorder is? Or how it affects children?” came to fruition when a local mother became frustrated by her experience in the New Orleans’ family court system. Another series of billboards will read, “Family Court Judges: Have you read the ACE Study? Your lack of knowledge affects children,” and “Family Court Judges: It doesn’t take two to tango when one is Cluster B.” This mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, took matters into her own hands in an attempt to educate the courts on Cluster B personality disorders (narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder). More specifically, how these disorders affect custody battles and parenting.
As a family court advocate, I have seen first-hand, the devastation caused by the lack of education in the family court system pertaining to Cluster B personality disorders. There seems to be a disconnect between the diagnosis (or suspicion) of a Cluster B personality disorder and understanding what that diagnosis means to a child in a shared parenting situation. Many parents around the world are desperately fighting to protect their children in high-conflict custody battles and the common denominator is often a Cluster B disordered individual.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is used by clinicians for the diagnosis of mental disorders and the Cluster B category contains three specific disorders which are prevalent in high-conflict custody cases. These are narcissistic personality disorder (more common in males than females), antisocial personality disorder (more common in males than females) and borderline personality disorder (more common in females than males). Unfortunately, even with a firm diagnosis of a Cluster B disorder, these individuals are often given custody simply because the courts do not understand the detrimental effects of this disorder on children. In each of these disorders, there is a pronounced lack of empathy, repeated testing of laws, rules, and personal boundaries, much manipulation to meet their own needs which can fluctuate with their mood states, and sometimes fraud and other criminal activities. There is often high comorbidity with substance abuse and other forms of mental disorders.
The narcissist, when compared to a dead-beat parent, is often a welcomed relief to the court because they show an interest in being a part of their children’s lives. The narcissist may appear to be a loving, devoted parent but that is simply smoke and mirrors. Their portrayed interest in their children is the furthest thing from the truth. One glaring red flag is that their words and actions are rarely in alignment so it is critical that judges pay closer attention in high-conflict cases. The narcissist is incapable of putting their child’s needs above their own and views them as possessions or as extensions of themselves.
Some of the hallmark characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder (and other Cluster B disorders) is a pronounced lack of empathy and the need to control and ultimately, win. These traits are the driving force of high-conflict cases but even more damaging are how these traits pertain to the narcissist’s ability (or lack thereof) to care for his or her children. The ability to model and exhibit empathy is critical to raising a healthy, adjusted child. The narcissist has an insatiable need for control and once they’ve lost the ability to control their partner, their controlling nature often turns to the children. Combined with their need to win at all costs, they become myopic on destroying the healthy parent and their weapon is their child. These factors combined create a dysfunctional and unhealthy dynamic that has long-term, traumatic effects on children.
It is important for family court judges to be aware that the suspected or diagnosed Cluster B individual sitting in front of them is wearing a mask. They appear to be one way in the courtroom and on paper but this is night and day different from who they are behind closed doors. Every family court judge should follow the lead of this heroic mother in New Orleans and educate themselves on Cluster B personality disorders so they can truly honor the oath that they took to act in the best interest of our children. The courts need to return to putting children’s rights above the rights of their parents and this begins with taking a closer look at the high-conflict custody cases that are infiltrating our court system.