How Does A Narcissist Handle Divorce and React to It?

How does a narcissist handle divorce

Narcissists are often self-absorbed, control freaks. They only see their own perspective and have love for no one but themselves. In this article, we address the question of how does a narcissist handle divorce, react to it and cope and we also discuss its effect on you and your options.

How does a narcissist handle divorce? How does a narcissist react to divorce? How do they cope? If you’re considering divorcing your narcissist spouse and this question has come up, it is a good example of the unique anxiety that divorcing a narcissist can cause. Fortunately, there are answers.

No person goes into a divorce without some stress and anxiety. Those emotions can get complex and vary depending on the situation. However, divorcing a narcissist comes with special and increased levels because there is often a significant history of intimidation, harassment and emotional abuse that precedes the divorce filing.

For these reasons, when you’re divorcing a narcissist spouse, you are legitimately concerned there will be an elevation of all of those things once the petition is filed served and the California divorce process begins. You are concerned the narcissist’s handling and dealing with the divorce will have a stressful and negative impact on you, the children and even the financial issues.

In this article, we are going to discuss the different ways that’s a narcissist husband or wife will respond and react to a divorce and how you can overcome it and become a more courageous and better person for it.

It’s important for you to know that you and your narcissist spouse are unique individuals and there is no cookie cutter approach to divorcing any personality type or psychological profile including that of the narcissist. Therefore, do not assume that you can read any article and get all the answers. A consultation and representation with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer in your State is critical. We write this article from the perspective of California spouses since we are California divorce and family law attorneys. Nothing in this article is legal advice nor intended to apply to divorces outside of California.

How does a narcissist handle divorce or react to it? Domestic violence and child abuse cases

If your marriage was fraught with domestic violence and/or child abuse, it is possible that a divorce filing or even knowledge that a divorce may be coming could result in additional violence and abuse. When divorcing a narcissist and gauging his or her handling and reaction, self-protection and the protection of your children should be a paramount concern.

If you suspect your narcissist spouse will respond with violence against you, preparation and planning become important as does immediate action at the right time.

First, you should look at whether a domestic violence restraining order action is appropriate. Please read our page on domestic violence restraining order requests and orders in California to learn more about the subject. Do not assume that just because the domestic violence did not occur immediately before a divorce filing, that you cannot proceed for a restraining order. You have more rights than you may realize.

Second, if there is no domestic violence that is posing a threat of harm but you’re still concerned it may occur, temporarily moving out of the residence before the divorce filing (the timing of which becomes important) may be a good option. A lot goes into this choice and it becomes more difficult when you have children. However,  your safety and that of your children is a greater priority than the inconvenience the move may cause, especially when a move such as this is often temporary and is not intended to be where you will stay for a lengthy period.

The narcissist’s handling of and reaction to divorce when he or she is the sole income earner

If your narcissistic spouse is also the breadwinner of the family, you will need to seek immediate child support, alimony and attorney fees orders and obtain those temporary orders so you can maintain the status quo while your divorce is pending.

The narcissist’s handling of and reaction to a divorce when you are the sole wage earner

If you are the breadwinner, the situation does become more complicated because your narcissist spouse may seek support and fees against you but with a documented history of child abuse or domestic violence, it will be very difficult for that spouse to obtain custody of the children and chances are he or she will either be paying you child support or your child support obligation will not be a large one if you have sole or primary custody. Learn more about California child custody laws on our comprehensive and in depth look at the subject.

Also, if the history of violence of your narcissistic spouse includes a criminal conviction for domestic violence within 5 years preceding the divorce petition filing or any time thereafter, there is a rebuttable presumption pursuant to Family Code 4325 that your spouse is not entitled to alimony. Please read our page about alimony in California to learn more about this area, which is one of the few “fault based” areas of divorce that remain.

How does a narcissist handle divorce or react to it? The emotional abuse cases

“I am going to make sure you never see the kids again”

“I’m not going to pay you a dime in support”

“I am going to quit my job and you’re going to be paying me support”

“I will spend all the money that we have just to fight you”

“You and the children will be on the streets if you proceed with the divorce”

If these threats sound familiar, it is probably because you are divorcing a narcissist. Narcissists by their very nature are control freaks and they cannot handle anything that they perceive causes them to lose control. When they are losing control and their grip on reality has completely slipped, threats like this and other emotional abuse becomes very common.

Threats are not limited to the divorce case. The intimidation and harassment may be to disparage you in front of the children or in front of others, although some narcissists cannot stand to be known for what they really are and keep the disparagement one on one. No matter the method that is used, emotional and psychological abuse is a very common reaction by narcissists in handling a divorce. In fact, in our experience, it is more common than physical abuse and financial abuse. The question is, how do you deal with it?

There are different ways but we like to look at it in the following manner:

  1. Is it just a verbal harassment or is there a real threat of physical or financial harm there? Yelling and screaming and acting like a jerk may not be worth your time and money to bring requests for orders if it is limited to that. It may simply be a situation where the narcissist you are divorcing doesn’t know how to deal with the loss of control and thinks trying to annoy you will somehow cause you to not go ahead with the divorce or give in to whatever his or her ridiculous demands may be.
  2. If there is a real threat of physical or financial harm, your divorce lawyer will need to get involved and court orders may be necessary.
  3. If emotional abuse has gotten to a point where it actually violates California Family Code 6320 and falls into the many categories that have nothing to do with physical violence, you can seek a restraining order. Some examples of conduct short of physical abuse are “stalking”, “threatening”, “harassing”, “telephoning, including, but not limited to, making annoying telephone calls”, “destroying personal property”, “disturbing the peace of the other party” and more.

Emotional abuse is one area where the handling or reaction by the narcissist is not limited to a particular gender. While physical abuse is unfortunately still more common by narcissist husbands against wives, emotional abuse is equal opportunity. Divorcing a narcissist wife often involves the wife’s threats to use the children as leverage, take them away from the father or make the divorce process as difficult as possible.

We have written an article on the subject of divorcing a narcissist wife and we hope you will read and enjoy it. Husbands will also harass and the emotional abuse by them is typically financial in nature although we have seen plenty of narcissist husbands who also try to use the children as leverage by making threats to take them away from the wife. We have similarly written an article on divorcing a narcissist husband. Although neither article is intended to be completely gender specific (and there is overlap), the issues raised in the article are more focused toward each gender based on our experience in handling divorce cases.

Similar to physical abuse cases, separating yourself from the situation is best if it can be done in an efficient manner and to protect yourself and the children. The advice of an experienced divorce lawyer is paramount in such cases.

How does a narcissist handle divorce or react to it? Financial abuse

There are a lot of different types of financial abuse that we have seen over the years by a narcissist husband or a narcissist wife. The most common are:

  1. Lying about income, especially if self-employed
  2. Hiding or diverting assets, especially if the narcissist spouse has been in control of the financial estate throughout the marriage
  3. Refusing to cooperate in the discovery process, which is the formal process of gathering information in divorce litigation.
  4. Refusing to pay child support or alimony, even after it is ordered
  5. Unnecessarily and unreasonably driving up the fees and costs of litigation by delay tactics, lack of cooperation or forcing litigation over simple issues
  6. Making false allegations of domestic violence in a divorce or custody case, as well as false allegations of abuse or neglect to gain additional custody and increase leverage on support issues

There is more but the approach you take on each of these issues is simple and can be summarized in three concepts:

  1. Pick your battles wisely. There is a time to be assertive in divorce litigation and a time to not allow yourself to be drawn into litigation fights that do not carry a benefit in proportion to the cost.
  2. Be proactive with attorney fee requests against the narcissist spouse. Every single one of the items on that list justify an attorney fee request against the narcissist spouse pursuant to Family Code 271 (sanctions as a punishment for unreasonable conduct) and, when warranted, Family Code 2030 and 2032 (based on a disparity of income, your need and your spouse’s ability to pay)
  3. Take violations of court orders seriously and file contempt actions. Contempt of Court requests in California divorce cases are a powerful tool because punishment can include fine, community service and jail.

How does a narcissist cope with divorce and its effect on you?

We don’t so much care about a narcissist spouse’s coping mechanisms as much as we do about its impact. Once your divorce has ended, hopefully on a successful note for you, there is usually a period of healing that takes place. This healing, in a normal setting, can take many forms. With a narcissist ex spouse who still believes themselves to have been wronged, it can become an opportunity for “round 2” of the divorce where they believe the end is an opportunity for more misconduct.

This can lead to post divorce judgment requests for order on custody and support issues, although it isn’t limited to those two.

Some things you can do in such a situation are as follows. This does not include those that involve physical violence or child abuse. For those, contact law enforcement and seek a restraining order immediately.

  1. Avoid direct communication with the narcissist ex-spouse. Get court orders that limit communication about the children to the use of programs like Our Family Wizard. Take away the narcissist’s opportunity to engage and upset you.
  2. Keep the narcissist on a short leash when it comes to court orders. If the narcissist is supposed to pay you support and fails to do so, file a contempt action and seek attorney fees, issue a wage garnishment, and levy accounts. If the narcissist learns that you won’t tolerate nonpayment and there will be consequences, he or she may be more likely to pay on time. Of course, you can let it build up and collect the legal rate of interest and then collect a few months or a year or so down the line but be sure to consult with your divorce attorney about the best choice because there is a limited period you can proceed with contempt actions in California. Read our contempt page for more information.
  3. Keep custody exchanges without communication and curbside. Custody exchanges are an opportunity for the narcissist ex-spouse to disparage and threaten you, especially in front of the children because he or she knows that is the best opportunity to upset you. A curb-side exchange avoids communication and contact.
  4. Take parental alienation seriously. If the narcissist ex-spouse is starting to engage post divorce decree in parental alienation of the children from you, take it seriously. Consult your family law attorney for help and document the alienation with the narcissist or his or her lawyer and seek court intervention if it does not stop.

Final thoughts on a narcissist’s handling and reaction to a divorce

Courage. Patience. Perseverance. It defines who and what you should be when divorcing a narcissist spouse and dealing with the narcissist’s handling of or reaction to the divorce. Our family law firm has the knowledge, experience and strength to help you through this very difficult time in your life. Contact us at (714) 937-1193 and let’s chat about your case and put your worries to rest. We offer an affordable, initial strategy session for those with matters in Orange County.

For some related reading, check out the three common misconceptions about divorcing a narcissist. We hope you find it to be a good read.

Want to read about some victories we have had when going up against a narcissist husband or wife? Check out our California divorce case results page. Here is one sample each of getting results against narcissist wife in a divorceand defeating a narcissist husband in a child custody case.  To read reviews about attorney B. Robert Farzad and Matthew J. Sundly, please visit our testimonials page.


  1. Emily Court says

    No matter what the personality disordered ex says or does, do not let them cause you to lose control or act out! They thrive on causing a reaction in you because it makes them feel in control (or that you really care about them–barf!).

    Second, anything you say or do, they will use against you in court. Or use to gain sympathy, and even isolate you from professionals, medical providers or teachers working with your children.

    Stay calm at all times. Act professionally. Don’t post your true thoughts on social media. Find safe, private places to talk or vent–friends, family, religious support, anonymous support group, etc. Other distractions can be physical exercise, music, meditation, volunteering, etc.
    Good luck!

  2. Steve says


    I know you can’t cover every angle on this issue but it seems that your article was written with the narcissist in mind being a man. It seems this way because you refer to the narcissist not paying alimony and how “they” need to be taken to task for it and shown that non-payment of alimony won’t be tolerated. We all know that over 96% of those paying alimony are men.

    What if the emotional abuser is the alimony receiving woman? And her harassment is through constant and persistent frivolous and vexatious legal filings? I.E. “but he won’t buy the kids new cars or buy them braces for their crooked teeth, etc, etc, etc? Obviously, not required by law.
    One thing to keep in mind is the extreme pro-female bias society and courts have for women. This can never be dismissed or underestimated, even if “the law” is supposedly blind, the judge isn’t blind.

    It seems that lawyers and courts, judges, etc have a vested bias to facilitate and encourage any and all litigation. Why be a lawyer, judge, etc to not be a lawyer, judge etc? Especially when there is money to be had?

    Thank you for any insight you may offer.

    • B. Robert Farzad says

      First, your perception about bias is inconsistent with what I have seen in our cases. We represent a lot of dads. If you surveyed the dads we represent and saw the results they got, I doubt you would be claiming there is a bias against fathers. Also, the Family Code specifically forbids gender discrimination or preferences. I hear some people make this claim when they got a result they were not happy with and others because they didn’t put in the time and attention the cases needed to combat the allegations. I am not stating there is never a bias. I am stating our experience with our clients is inconsistent with bias. Regarding narcissism and women, happens all the time. Some of the worst I have dealt with have been women. We have written an article about that too. I link to that article in the one you read. Check it out.

  3. Amy says

    Wishing I read this back in 2010. I just hired my third attorney yesterday.

    My ex is guilty of all of the above. People can’t comprehend or fathom the actions of an narcissist. I have discontinued trying to explain it to people. “Why can’t the two of you just get along and co-parent?” My answer, “It takes two people to co-parent.” I have time and time again bowed down to his every whim thinking it would change his behavior and begin to co-parent. I have learned through trial and error that it will never happen. I accept that now.

    In a nutshell, my ex teaches high school law. He is extremely narcissistic. It wasn’t until I began going to therapy that *Narcissism* was introduced to my vocabulary. It’s a personality that is unimaginable to the common person. We were finally divorced in 2012, but like you have stated Robert… I am now living in “Round 2.”

    Robert, your article touched every single aspect of my life thus far dealing with a narcissist. I wish you could talk with my attorney and give him a heads up or simply fly here to Wisconsin on a magic carpet and save my children and I from this man.

    I have done years of my own research on narcissism. For myself and my children, I needed answers. I was with my ex for 15 years. I hadn’t a clue he was narcissistic nor did I realize I was being controlled. The narcissist is truly the master of mind manipulation. My ex was extremely (Indirectly) verbally and emotionally abusive. I didn’t recognize it until it was too late. After living under the control of a narcissist, I not only struggles emotionally, mentally, but physically. I found myself visiting my doctor more frequently with issues towards the end of our marriage. The doctors nor therapists couldn’t seem to help me. I thought I was going crazy, until I stumbled onto an article at work that left me speechless with eyes full of tears. “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome” is what I had. Every symptom in the article was everything that I was living with. It’s considered PTSD. It’s a diagnoses that is new to the medical field. It’s so new, that it hasn’t made it’s mark into medical books thus far. No doctor can diagnose you with it. I found myself printing copies of the articles and giving them to my therapist and doctor. It wasn’t until then that they were able to treat me accordingly.

    Thank you!

    By the way, I agree with your previous reply to the comment about men/alimony/narcissism. There are several females who are narcissistic and also women who pay alimony (Narcissistic or not). I will echo your every word.

    I am currently trying to help two friends who are going through the same thing as I did/am. They too have every sign of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. It breaks my heart. It’s an illness that should be publicised to educate the public. It would save others from living the same hell I did.

    • B. Robert Farzad says

      Thank you for your comments Amy. I wish you the best. Write the chapters in your book of life with courage and perseverance so when you look back at them years from now, you are proud of what you read.

      • Erica says

        I believe I am suffering from narcissistic victim syndrome for sure. I am so scared! I have been married to him for 14 1/2 yrs. He is Colombian and I have a 19 yr old whom he took on as the role of “dad” right after we got married and then we had a child together who is now 11. He treats my oldest so much different than my youngest. I believe my daughter and I are scapegoats for him and he takes all his frustration and anger out on us. Verbally, emotionally, and he has put his hands on me quite a few times in the past. Because I was raised to be very independent, I refuse to bow down to him. I will protect my oldest who now just wants out of this house because he ailienates her so badly. If she says something in just the slitest wrong tone, he puts ultimatums on our marriage. He owns land and a couple of properties in Colombia that I never even had a choice in getting. He nickels and dimes me on everything but, he comes home with a 50,000 truck, sneakers, watches, bike, two quads that he purchased in Colombia; the list goes on and on. I don’t even care about his money! I am truly scared of moving out with our youngest that we share together. He adores her. I am a very intelligent person with a great support team; I just finished school and am getting ready to take my national so I can find a job and then hopefully we can be divorced peacefully. I truly love this man because he does have great things about him, I wouldn’t have stayed with him all these years if I didn’t love him. I know now that he doesn’t really love me the way I love him and so I know I have to make a move. I am going to be patient and just keep praying that this can all end peacefully.
        One scared mother

  4. Patty says

    I’m supposed to collect my own alimony payments from my ex. So I call and he hangs up. Next thing I know I’m being served a restraining order. So how am I supposed to get my payments? He was told to start paying 3 weeks ago and still hasn’t paid a dime. He won’t follow the law about pay,nets but is using it so he can hide behind it!? What do I do?

    • B. Robert Farzad says

      Is the case in California? If so, get a wage garnishment order. If you are outside of California, consult with an attorney in your State.

  5. Pellegrino says

    Dear Robert,
    This was so spot on! I wish more lawyers were as informed as you on how to recognize what’s going on and how to advise your client wisely based on the reactions of the narc.

  6. Sharon says

    Hi, Hoping you can help me. How do you stop a Nman using his family to do the harassment. Where my son and I won our case in court we now have his family pushing quote – its the silence we can’t handle but I know once the silence is breached they will be all over us. The court ordered No Contact with the father for a reason. ps he has not paid his child support in years.

    • B. Robert Farzad says

      Sharon, we don’t give legal advice in the comment section of an article. It sounds like you are anticipating harassment? Regarding child support, hire an attorney and enforce the court order. You have options regarding contempt and of course wage garnishment to name just a couple of many. I assume your case is in California.

  7. Lynn says

    I wish I’d seen this article in 2011 when I finally started the process of divorcing my ex in San Diego county! He turned into a evil, monster during the 2 year process. Pulled out every filthy step he could think of to destroy me including fabricating evidence and obtaining a fake r.o.! Luckily in the end our Judge saw who the problem was and after my ex got caught lying to the court on 3 different occasions, lifetime spousal support! I’m unfortunately still dealing with the mess he caused before the Judge caught on to him. Our divorce was final on 1-4-13 and I thank God every day he’s in my rearview! Great article!

  8. Waldon says

    Very weird and unique article explaining the behavior of narcissists. Well, I wasn’t aware of such facts and never thought of them but it’s good to read them. Well, most of them are complete liars and they love themselves and in this regard you should approach to someone who can help you to come out of it. I am glad that somebody and someone thought about them and it may be any type of divorce at first, try to solve it by mutual understanding and if no hope seems then go for it.

  9. Jamie says

    Is there a family attorney in Los Angeles County that you could refer me to that understands the delicacies and strategic legalities it takes with a narcissistic man?
    I have received permanent restraining orders, move out orders for him, full legal and physical custody of all three of my children, and a temporary child support order all pro per. I went to trial for custody without attorney and won. It has been a year since temporary support order was made and he’s paid nothing. He is independent contractor and works in cash. We were married 20 years, and he always threatened if I left him, he would never pay a dime. I’m headed for trial for permanent spousal and child support….. (he claims he makes min wage.. Although he made 10x that for years and years.) He will drag this into the ground to spite me. I would like legal advice of what my next strategy should be and I would also like a bifurcation. I’ve come to a brick wall and don’t know my next move. I have no legal background…..have been winging it so far.

    • B. Robert Farzad says

      Jamie, our firm handles family law matters in L.A. But it sounds like we may be out of your budget. I assume you have been representing yourself, in part, because you have not been able to afford a good attorney in L.A.?

      • Jamie says

        Yea. I cannot afford representation because he has basically starved us by not supporting his threes boys and me. Yet, he of course has an attorney defending himself. The law is totally unfair in this area and I get frustrated about how much leeway he is given when it is obvious what he is doing. I have had his bank accounts and some past clients records subpoenaed for proof of his earning and spending… But not sure how to present it all in court. I have gathered a pile of very damaging evidence to support my claims that he makes a lot more than he admits. His attorney keeps challenging everything, and because I don’t know the law… Is eating away at my evidence. I need legal advice on how to present this to the court so my permanent order can be set and my divorce be finalized. He will play this game til be dies. I just want to get on with my life with my sons. Aren’t there any attorneys that donate their time for good causes.. Or even training? Jamie

        • B. Robert Farzad says

          Consider speaking with Legal Aid. Also, Family Code 2030 and 2032 are designed to level the playing field. If you have evidence of his income and ability to pay, a local attorney in LA should be able to file an attorney fee motion for you.

  10. Renato says

    I can relate to this topic of narcissistic ex-wife because it is happening to me now and I don’t know how and where to ask help specially I can’t afford to hire any lawyers. Please help me. My case is in San Mateo County. I’ve been dealing with my ex-wife way back 2011 until now that I have my own family.

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