In the post-COVID world, a record number of people are struggling with mental health. Researchers and clinicians across the globe are sounding alarm bells calling out the looming “mental health crisis”. Primary care physicians are handing out pills at unprecedented levels. Therapists are over-run with patients. We are sick. We are tired. We are anxious. We are depressed. Our world is polluted, and we are at “war” on many fronts. The result: The core of our society, the family unit, is in extremis. We all know these families. If your family has a narcissist mixed into this toxic brew, your life is a living hell. What do you do? Do you stay for the kids? Are you afraid to divorce or modify custody because of a custody battle? If these are your questions, this blog is for you.
There is hope. Indiana’s divorce laws can protect you and your kids. Know it, and get yourself a damn good lawyer.
The journey begins by seeing what a “narcissist” looks like. If you have a working understanding of narcissism, you can use the legal tools found in the Divorce Act to protect yourself and then effectively fight your way through your child custody litigation. What is narcissism? In short, narcissism is a personality disorder involving a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior that significantly differs from societal norms. Narcissism typically appears in adolescence (boys and girls). This disorder causes long-term difficulties with all personal and work relationships, as well as in all other facets of life. This personality disorder is characterized by a lack of guilt and empathy with, again, an inability to form lasting relationships.
Does this sound like your spouse or ex? Are you relatively sure? Your custody case depends on it. To fact check yourself, look at some of the common symptoms exhibited by individuals with narcissistic personality disorder, recognizing they vary in severity from person to person. People with this disorder can:
- Be critical and look down on people.
- Expect to be recognized as superior.
- Make achievements larger than life.
- Be preoccupied with success, power, brilliance, or beauty.
- Feel that they deserve special treatment/privileges.
- Have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance and demand excessive admiration.
- Believe they can only spend time with, or be understood by, equally special people.
- Expect special favors without question.
- Take advantage of the situation to get what they want.
- Insist on having the best of everything.
- Have the inability to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
- Be envious of others and believe others envy them.
- Be unable to accept loss or defeat.
At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble managing anything they view as criticism. And then the gaslighting makes you question whether you are the problem. You already know this? If you are fighting a narcissist for custody, you feel like a yo-yo: Insecure. Angry. Lost. Hopeless. Frustrated. Apprehensive. And the list goes on. Just walking on eggshells all the time. How do you divorce yourself from this person, get your joy and confidence back, by doing so, and help your kids, you might ask? Get a divorce attorney familiar with neutralizing the narcissist in the court. How might you ask? In the ideal world, the narcissist gets diagnosed, understands, accepts the diagnosis, and gets into psychotherapy. This is a tall order. But it is possible. Ready to turn the page?
Where do you start to accomplish this? Obviously, obtain a proper mental health assessment of the narcissist. With any luck, the expert diagnosis narcissist personality disorder, or at least, raises the question and probability of this diagnosis. Is that possible? Absolutely. In Indiana, anytime child custody is before the court, the judge is required to consider “the mental and physical health of all individuals involved”. You are thinking “great, everyone in the case knows something is ‘off’ with my ex, so what?’” Fortunately, by using the legal tool available to you, the court, may order a psychological examination or a custody evaluation.
In fact, a court has vast discretion to order any professional–from a Guardian Ad Litem  (“GAL”) to a clinical psychologist, to investigate and report. A GAL investigates the situation, including mental health, and makes a report to the court about the dynamics in the case and what to do for healthy parenting to meet the children’s best interests. A clinical psychologist most likely will conduct a custody evaluation. This is your tool to neutralize the narcissist. At completion, a custody evaluator reports to the court mental health conditions, such as narcissism, and how it may impact child custody, and what is in the children’s best interests from the psychologist’s standpoint. A custody evaluation is the most comprehensive legal tool to neutralize a narcissist and protect your children.
There are three components of a custody evaluation. The component you may want most is psychological testing. The most common test utilized in custody evaluation testing is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2). The MMPI-2 measures personality states, such as is the person happy or sad in the moment, as well as personality traits. Personality traits are characteristics a person has that do not change much over time. In addition, the clinical psychologist can administer other tests as indicated in the clinical evaluation of the parties as a part of the custody evaluation. Intrigued now?
What is the next component of the custody evaluation? Consideration of collateral “evidence”. Collaterals may be people or things the clinical psychologist believes necessary to the comprehensive evaluation and report. Common collateral persons consulted by the clinical psychologist are any party’s therapist or the kids’ teachers and/or counselors. Not enough? Remember, the clinical psychologist can and will consult any person he/she believes may assist in the custody evaluation. This is critical as a clinical psychologist will identify the telltale signs of this disorder these witnesses hold (without even knowing it). The clinical psychologist also looks at materials, such as a police report, or listens to, “things”, such as audio/video segments. You have “crazy” in a recording? Boom, right?
The last part of a custody evaluation is clinical interviews. The clinical psychologist interviews the parties and watches them interact with their child in various settings. After this is completed, the evaluator prepares a detailed written report and, therein, makes custody and parenting time recommendations in the best interests of the children. This report is filed with the court and then used at trial to neutralize the narcissist. Specifically, this evaluation accounts for how a narcissist plays into the custody dynamic and what to do about it. This report is your kryptonite to neutralize the narcissist in trial.
Now the rest of the story. If for some reason the Divorce Act’s provision for mental health evaluations or custody evaluations are not right for your case, there are many other legal tools available to you to neutralize the narcissist in your child custody litigation. For instance, as previously noted, a party may request a GAL. A GAL is typically an experienced attorney accomplished in family law. The GAL represents the children’s best interests. While the GAL cannot administer psychological testing, do not dismay. The GAL the power to direct psychological testing and subpoena witnesses. Thus, the GAL too can sniff out the narcissist.
Do you need more? The Indiana Supreme Court’s trial rules found in the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure provides for discovery. Discovery is a process through which you can obtain information from the other side to prepare your custody case. The narcissist may be asked questions trial through written interrogatories or deposition. The narcissist may be required to produce necessary records that may expose him/her, such as psychiatric or psychological records through request for production of documents. The discovery rules also allow you to ask for a psychological or psychiatric exam of the suspected narcissist if you can show cause.
It should be apparent at this point there are many legal avenues you can consider in battling the narcissist in litigation over your children. The key is to pare your case with a skilled family law attorney who understands narcissism and litigates high stakes custody cases. Are you breathing a sigh of relief? Good. There is still one more hurdle. How do you manage the narcissist and his/her time with the children after the court decides the matter? The court will not remain actively involved after it rules. Typically, neither will your counsel. Fortunately, there are many types of relief the court can order if the evidence supports to help ensure the custody order is enforced after the litigation is over.
For instance, the court can appoint a parenting time coordinator. A parenting time coordinator is typically a clinical psychologist or attorney. The parenting coordinator stays involved in the case during the term of appointment and helps navigate heathy parenting in real time when disputes frequently occur: Weekends. Holidays. Vacations. Sound familiar? How else can you effectively communicate with the narcissist? You cannot. However, there are communication applications available to you to standardize and depersonalize your communication with the narcissist. By using such applications, the narcissist will no longer intimidate and marginalize you in face-to-face communication or phone calls. The most common app is Our Family Wizard.
Neutralize your narcissist in the courtroom. Obtain control and peace in your life. These are just a few of the legal tools available to you to neutralize the narcissist. The attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. are knowledgeable about mental health conditions, such as personality disorders, and how they play into child custody litigation. We know how to litigate these cases in the courtroom. And if it can be won, win. Period. Should we partner with you to neutralize the narcissist you face? We are willing. We are able. We will be ready. Always, in all ways. This blog was written by trial attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. with offices in central Indiana. This blog is not intended to provide or be relied upon as legal advice.