Divorcing a narcissist may be the toughest fight of your life. While your marriage to a narcissist may have seemed like hell, divorcing him/her can be painfully agonizing, making your marriage seem like a walk in the park.
Following my recent blog, the #1 Secret to Engaging a Narcissist, I received hundreds of emails from people looking for answers on how to divorce a narcissist. Many claimed that their narcissist manipulates the legal system and as their victim, they are destined to lose because they lack the manipulating tactics of which their narcissist so skillfully acquires.
This led me to want to investigate this further -- do narcissists really manipulate the legal system? How can their spouse or ex-spouse engage in legal matters with their narcissist without losing their mind, and actually "win" their case?
After interviewing experts on this subject, one thing is clear: If you are divorcing a narcissist, you need to be prepared that your spouse will put on the greatest show of their lives -- divorce is the ultimate opportunity to showcase their role as the victim/martyr. At last, they get to prove to the world why you are a horrible, unworthy person and/or parent. The worst thing you can do, states divorce attorney Robert Farzad*, is to react emotionally to any of it.
"All of your emotions and what you feel are irrelevant. The minute you react to that person, you are already losing the battle," Farzad said. "Stop feeling and start thinking."
Farzad, president of Farzad Family Law in Orange County, California, believes that those divorcing a narcissist "lose" their case because they never had a strategy and end up surrendering. "That surrender usually happens when they say, 'I can't handle this anymore, I give up,'" he said. "When you take a person who has been emotionally mutilated for decades, does that sound like a person who will do well in a fight?"
To avoid surrender, Farzad recommends the following guidelines as you manage your case with your narcissist:
1) Take your time: "The biggest thing that happens is that there's a huge rush to hire an attorney. There should be an interview process," he said. "Even if you've been served papers, you don't have to hire an attorney the same day unless it's some kind of emergency hearing coming up. Make sure you file your response on time, but see if you can find the time to interview a few lawyers before making a final decision."
2) Listen, ask questions: "Don't walk in with pre-conceived notions of how things should be - go in as a blank canvas," he said. A perception might be that you should have sole custody of kids and your spouse should never have them. "That's not helpful," he added. "Don't try to control the process with your pre-conceived notions, instead, educate yourself with the process of how things actually are. Set forth reasonable expectations."
3) Itemize the issues that are important to you: Bring a list to your attorney consultation - what are you concerned about? Make a list of your questions and concerns. For example, what's going to happen to the house, etc? Ask your attorney, what judges in your county best handle custody and visitation? How does your state handle alimony? These are just a few examples.
4) Identify the end goal: Be very clear with your attorney as to exactly what you want. Don't get caught up in the fight over the smallest issues. "A narcissist wants you to react to everything he or she does. In other words, think before you spend $9 on a $10 issue," he said.
5) Ask the right questions: How do we level the playing field where he/she can outspend me? What laws exist? What mistakes has your lawyer seen that people in my position make? Ask your lawyer, "Am I being unreasonable or realistic about _____ (fill in the blank)?"
6) Play devil's advocate with your case: What arguments are your narcissist spouse or other parent going to make? What facts will they come up with that will hurt your positions? It's good to be objective.
7) Don't hire the overaggressive, "pit bull" lawyer: "Some people want a lawyer who isn't a problem solver or reasonable. They want someone who will make a lot of noise and promises to make their spouses' life a living hell," Farzad said. "Why would you ever hire that type of attorney to help you toward a reasonable conclusion? All you're doing is feeding the monster that is the lawyer's billable hours." Farzad believes that a quality family law litigator and zealous advocate also knows when to objectively access the facts, law and each side's positions.
8) Don't focus on who they are, but what they're doing: "If you give someone a label and stick them with it, you completely lose focus," he said. Actions speak so much more clearly than labels.
9) Be reasonable at all times: "You don't battle a narcissist by becoming a narcissist, where you are also unreasonable. You battle a narcissist by disengaging him, and thinking logically, factually, and economically. Use the facts and law as your way to conclusion, whether that is settlement or letting the Court make decisions."
*Mr. Farzad's comments are related only to California matters because he is licensed to practice law in California only. Nothing he has said is legal advice nor intended for any particular case. These are his general thoughts on the subject.
This article is part one of a two-part article on divorcing a narcissist. Follow Lindsey Ellison on Huffington Post to watch for the release of part two. For more information on divorcing or breaking free from a narcissist, click here.