Any custody modification case can become a battle, but when your ex is a narcissist, you must be prepared for war. Not only do narcissists refuse to lose, but they are willing to break all the rules to ensure that they win. However, knowing a narcissist's personality traits and the types of behavior you might expect from them can give you an advantage in court. This blog discusses how to litigate custody modification when your ex is a narcissist.
Narcissism is a personality disorder with ranges of severity in symptoms and behaviors. Because the symptoms are flawed character traits, anyone can show some signs of narcissistic personality disorder without actually having it. It is when the symptoms become so severe that they interfere with one’s ability to function socially, at work, and at home that a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder might be made (Verywell Mind). But whether your ex has a true disorder or shows signs of narcissism, there are some things you can expect during litigation and strategies you can implore to help you win your custody modification case.
A major symptom of narcissism is an exaggerated sense of self-importance (Mayo Clinic). This belief can cause the narcissist to expect special treatment, demanding constant attention and requiring strict loyalty and obedience. Trying to modify custody or fighting their attempt will be seen as a betrayal, deserving of a no-holds-barred assault on you, your attorney, and anyone else perceived as participating in this betrayal. Your narcissistic ex may say that you are abusing or neglecting the child, have a drug or alcohol addiction, leave the child unsupervised for long periods of time, or anything else they can think of to accuse you of putting the child’s health, safety, and welfare at risk. These false allegations may be made to friends and family, posted on social media, or testified to in court. Narcissists are not above lying to get what they want, even under oath and subject to perjury charges. In fact, a courtroom might be viewed as a perfect forum for obtaining the attention and special treatment they desire.
Litigation provides a party with ample opportunity to make accusations in the form of both written pleadings and oral testimony. This allows a narcissist to play the victim, proving the other party is at fault for everything that is an issue in the case, and they are the right one, and, therefore superior. The attention derived from this may be in part what makes narcissists known for dragging out litigation as long as possible by filing excessive motions and requesting numerous hearings. It may also be used as a way of controlling the other party, forcing them to pay attorney fees and attend court hearings to defend themselves against the barrage of fictitious allegations. There are things you can do, however, to prevent your custody modification case against a narcissist ex from turning into all-out warfare.
First, document everything (Toxic Ties). And that means absolutely everything. Keep a notebook to write down dates, times, and details every time you have any interaction with your ex or your child tells you anything concerning what occurred during an interaction they had with your ex. If there is a text message, e-mail, photograph, video, or any other document that supports your entries print it, and then reference it in the notebook using language that will make it easy to find later. For example, a text message conversation might be referenced in your notebook as “August 2, 2023, text conversation”. Once you have printed and referenced your supporting evidence, label it with the date and same reference used in your notebook. You should also keep a calendar for parenting time schedules and your child’s extra-curricular and school events and activities. If your ex is late for or misses any parenting time, you can easily jot it down on the calendar. The same applies for your child’s missed activities. Be aware while using a journal or calendar that if you only document the negative behavior of your ex, it can appear to the court as if that was your entire focus in maintaining the records and might not be given as much evidentiary weight.
Second, limit contact with your ex to written communications such as text messaging or e-mail whenever possible and do not argue with them. Arguments can be saved for court. Focus on gathering evidence for your custody modification, your child, and what is in their best interests. When collecting evidence, keep in mind what the court will look for when determining whether to modify custody. Two Indiana statutes govern custody orders and modifications. The custody order statute (I.C. 31-17-2-8) enumerates a list of factors the court must consider when determining the best interests of the child as it relates to custody. The modification of custody order statute (I.C. 31-17-2-21) provides that to modify a custody order, the court must first find that there has been a substantial change in one or more of the factors listed in the custody order statute.
Finally, remember that your ex is ill. There is no negotiating or reasoning with a narcissist. Their behavior is a result of their disorder and requires different tactics to deal with than the unreasonable behavior of an otherwise mentally healthy person. You should also consult with an attorney experienced in high conflict custody cases, preferably one who also has dealt with spouses and ex-spouses with mental illness.
This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.