Divorcing a sociopath comes with challenges greater than a typical California divorce. Divorcing a sociopath means you will have to be ready for what you likely endured during the marriage. This may include intimidation, manipulation and deception.
In this article, we will discuss how divorcing a sociopath in California can present greater challenges. We will also write about steps that may lessen the impact a sociopath can have on a California divorce. Reducing the impact to the children, to the spouse who was married to the sociopath and the financial issues that traditionally get litigated in a California divorce case are a high priority when divorcing a sociopath.
What we write here about divorcing a sociopath is not intended as legal or any other type of advice nor is it intended to apply to your specific case. We write this article generally about what we have seen in divorce cases where one spouse appears to have a sociopathic disorder or exhibits behavior that seem consistent with one. This article is only about California divorces and no other State. We are experienced California divorce attorneys and our family law practice is located in Orange County, California with offices in Mission Viejo and Santa Ana.
What is a sociopath?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is a book by the American Psychiatric Association, states in its fifth edition that a person with an anti-social personality disorder (such as a sociopath or psychopath) is someone that has little to no regard for the rights of others and that lack of regard is typically without remorse. The word “anti-social” does not mean what you may think it means. We are not talking about someone who is withdrawn from society. We are talking about someone who refuses to abide by laws, rules and what is acceptable behavior in society. Individuals who are sociopathic or psychopathic can sometimes be quite charming and even successful and engaging. That is supposed to be less common in a sociopath and more common in a psychopath. There is no black and white here and labels should be attached with care.
The word sociopath is unfortunately becoming diluted. What we mean is the word is starting to lose meaning. In some respects the word has become like the word narcissist where that word is starting to replace the word jerk or more colorful terms. But a personality or antisocial disorder, whether diagnosed or not, is not something to be taken lightly.
What may you expect when divorcing a sociopath?
Divorcing a sociopath may mean dealing with intimidation, manipulation and deception in various forms
Words and conduct can intimidate. They can instill fear. Words and conduct may not always lead to actual physical abuse of a spouse or a child but rather cause the other spouse to feel frightened about financial security, personal safety or the safety of the child. Some examples we have seen include cutting off a spouse financially, refusing to allow the spouse or children to socialize with others and emotionally abusing a spouse or child through belittling and insulting behavior.
Throughout a divorce case, a sociopath may use intimidation, manipulation and deception for the following reasons.
A sociopath may attempt to gain more custody of children to use them as leverage
A sociopath who cares little about what is “right” and “best” for the children may often seek more parenting time than what he or she can handle. He or she may even attempt to gain sole custody (a common threat designed to intimidate the other spouse) even though there is no basis for it. This is done by the sociopath as a means of controlling the situation and not giving the outward perception that they are an uninterested or absentee parent. Gaining more custody than what is in the child or children’s best interest is also used to artificially lower child support. Certainly this type of conduct is not limited to cases that involve divorcing a sociopath but we believe it is more common and done much more aggressively when dealing with this anti-social personality type.
A sociopath may attempt to gain an unfair and unreasonable advantage over financial issues
One trait about a sociopathic personality is deception. What makes divorcing a sociopath more challenging is they often do not look at what they say and do as deceptive even though that may be self-evident to just about everyone else. Instead, they believe their own warped and often delusional reality. For these reasons, trying to reason with the sociopath may be a futile task. We will discuss this more below.
In the category of finances, it is not uncommon for a sociopath to simply lie about his or her income especially if the person is self-employed. In addition, a sociopath may take absurd positions that make no sense regarding what is community versus separate property or other aspects of California divorce law. What we sometimes hear from those we believe may be sociopathic is their belief that just because they earn the money during the marriage as opposed to their spouse, regardless of California’s community property laws, the money must be theirs and not community property. When these tendencies are fanned by incompetent lawyers who represent them, lawyers who are perfectly happy to be puppets and do whatever the client wants, the situation can become exasperated.
Divorcing a sociopath may result in his or her disregard of court orders
A court order is not a suggestion. It is a directive. But when divorcing a sociopath, court orders may not be seen by the sociopath as something they must do but rather something they can choose to ignore. This is the hallmark of an anti-social personality disorder – the refusal to respect and follow laws and rules.
When divorcing a sociopath, some spouses should expect that court orders may not have much meaning to them. We have seen this manifest itself in different ways. They include, as just a few examples:
- Not following a child custody schedule but instead consistently violating it,
- Insisting on a schedule that they “want” regardless of the court order,
- Violating the custody order’s terms by disparaging the other spouse to the children or getting the children actively involved in child custody issues, or
- Refusing to pay support or intentionally paying it late.
Divorcing a sociopath may mean leaving a physically abusive relationship
An important note about physical abuse – once physical abuse occurs, the perpetrator’s personality disorder really does not matter. Physical abuse should always lead to a restraining order to protect both the abused spouse and the children.
The California legislature has put teeth in our family code to punish physical abusers and protect the victims, including the children.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss domestic violence specifically but we have written about domestic violence in several contexts within California divorce and family law. Our articles include:
- Domestic violence and its impact on child custody
- Domestic violence and its impact on spousal support
- Domestic violence prevention act and restraining orders
Helpful tips when divorcing a sociopath
We have identified some of the conduct we’ve seen when divorcing a sociopath. Now, let’s look at some tactics that in our experience can lessen the damage a sociopathic personality can cause in a California divorce.
When divorcing a sociopath, do not engage him or her with an emotional response
By the word “engage”, we refer to letting emotions make your decisions during the divorce case. It is so common in divorce cases for emotions to run hot. Divorcing a sociopath takes that to another level. That reaction to attempts at instilling fear, intimidation or even emotional abuse is too often illogical, emotional and not healthy.
When it comes to assets, a divorce must become a business transaction. The same is true on issues such as support. When it comes to child custody and parenting time, divorcing a sociopath comes with challenges but we have found one effective way to overcome that challenge is to set fear aside and think logically about the situation.
For example, ask this question when dealing with a custody dispute – what is in the best interests of the children? Once you have answered that question, your strategy and path should direct you to obtaining child custody and parenting time orders consistent with it. You and your attorney should work together to gather evidence in support of the children’s best interest.
Put another way, you have to disarm the sociopath you are divorcing by not getting yourself sucked into the attempts at intimidation, fear or emotional abuse the sociopath throws your way. That is how they attempt to control their spouse and children. I realize this may be easier said than done but look at the alternative. If you allow yourself to become emotionally engaged with a sociopath to the extent where your emotions, not your mind, are making decisions for you during the divorce proceeding, haven’t you already sent your divorce and the issues down a dangerous path? Is that really what you want for yourself? For your children?
Tools to help manage your emotions when divorcing a sociopath
When divorcing a sociopath, use the tools available to you for legal, financial and emotional support
When divorcing a sociopath, don’t look at the situation as if you are going through it alone. There are four different categories of individuals who can be there to help the divorce go forward smoothly.
An experienced, caring and knowledgable divorce lawyer is a great ally when divorcing a sociopath
Your California divorce lawyer should be experienced, knowledgeable, in tune with what reasonable expectations should be and an excellent communicator. Communication is something lawyers are notoriously bad at with their clients. You cannot have poor communication when divorcing a sociopath.
A mental health professional may help you manage divorce’s complex emotions when divorcing a sociopath
When divorcing a sociopath, recognize you may not be going through a typical divorce. Perhaps the typical John and Jane Doe do not need a therapist to help guide them through the psychological and emotional aspects of a divorce. But those who divorce a sociopathic spouse typically do. This is especially true in longer marriages with children. Chances are, in a long marriage, you have been on the receiving end of a significant amount of emotional or psychological abuse. To try to manage and navigate the divorce and the emotions it can cause on your own may be an unnecessary risk to take.
If you have health insurance, then your health insurance may cover mental health therapy. Use it. Look into this issue and see what your options are regarding therapy. You can even speak with your attorney about what local therapist in your county within the state of California your attorney may recommend. A good therapist may do wonders in helping to manage a divorce’s complex emotions and complex emotions can lead to poor results if not managed properly.
A family law judge is there to apply the facts and follow the law and that is what you want when divorcing a sociopath
The family law judge is there to ensure the right result. You may be thinking, “you’re putting the judge in one of these four categories?” Yes I am. The reason I am doing it is because you should go into any divorce with the courage to put your matter in front of the judge when that becomes necessary.
Too many spouses cave to the pressure of a divorce and make decisions contrary to the children’s best interest as well as harmful to their own financial best interest just to “get it over with.” A judge is not going to be perfect. A family law judge doesn’t even always make what you may perceive to be the right decision. But a family law judge is there to follow the law and apply the facts to the law. Have some faith in the California family law system.
Obviously, if you are your own worst enemy, you don’t cooperate with your lawyer, you let your emotions run amok, or you engage in conduct that is inappropriate, etc. you may not be happy with what the family law judge orders. We get those phone calls months or years later from spouses who call us for the first time and who went through a divorce case, got a result with which they were unhappy and want us to come in and assist them. They were often represented by a lawyer who they claim did not do a good job and they blame everyone but themselves. When we listen to the facts and what they claim occurred, we sometimes identity so many mistakes they made that caused their divorce to go off the rails. Don’t let that be you.
A sociopath may become disarmed in court. In other words, when the sociopath loses control of the decision-making and that is left to an experienced family law judge who is not intimidated by the sociopath’s nonsense, there may be a greater chance for a result consistent with the facts and law.
Family and friends can provide emotional and financial support when divorcing a sociopath
You have a support system and you should use it wisely. Family and friends can be wonderful support when divorcing a sociopath. They can provide emotional support, financial support, volunteer their time to help the children and generally be there when you need them. You should of course be careful when soliciting advice from family or friends on the actual family law case itself because advice should only come from the family law attorney you hire. I suppose people sharing their own experiences about such things may have some value but if you let that control your decision-making, you may find yourself making poor decisions if the lay-person and nonprofessional advice turned out to be the wrong one.
Limit negotiations to what is necessary and reasonable when divorcing a sociopath
Any sane person would prefer a reasonable resolution in a divorce compared to litigation, right? But for there to be a reasonable resolution, both spouses need to have a meeting of the minds. That often means a reasonable compromise. Compromise is very difficult and sometimes simply not possible when divorcing a sociopath. That is because most sociopaths we have encountered only have one perspective and that is their own. When someone only sees their perspective and believes everything other than their perspective is wrong, the negotiations become very difficult.
For these reasons, when divorcing a sociopath, we make reasonable attempts to settle issues but when it becomes clear that we are wasting time doing so, negotiations stop. Otherwise, cases can drag on for far too many months or even years.
When divorcing a sociopath, you should have the courage to go to court when that is necessary
This one is hard. When divorcing a sociopath, you may have been under his or her control emotionally and psychologically for many years. But here it is the reality that many wives and husbands face when dealing with a sociopathic personality. It takes courage to proceed with the divorce. It takes courage to do the right thing for your children and for yourself. That courage sometimes requires you to stop and realize the best option may be to leave the decision to a family law judge.
This is a decision that should be handled with care. It is not flippant. It is not rushed. It is not uninformed. Communication with your family law attorney is important. Understanding the facts of your case, strengths of your positions, the evidentiary support for those positions, the cost and benefit should all be taken into consideration. If it gets to a point where settlement is not reasonably available and you are confident the facts and law are on your side, then proceeding the court may be the better option.
Whether you should or should not leave the decision to a family law judge does not have to be an all or nothing scenario. Family law cases in California can settle, in part. For example, issues such as property division and debt division can settle while support and custody proceed to hearing. That is not unusual nor should any spouse divorcing a sociopath feel like it must be all or nothing. In fact, it is the sociopath who often sees things as an all or nothing, my way or no way.
Don’t fall into the same trap. We have said it before but it is worth repeating – the advice from an experienced family law lawyer that is representing you is important here.
Knowledge is truly power when divorcing a sociopath
Read, learn and become informed about the personality type with which you are dealing. You are reading this article. That already tells us you want to become informed about this subject. Bravo. Keep reading. Keep learning. Divorcing a sociopath or any spouse with a serious antisocial or personality disorder requires knowledge and that knowledge can act as a shield as well as a sword when needed.
Rise above being just a vicim of a sociopath
What is often taught to victims of abuse is the courage to rise above it and become emotionally and psychologically self-supporting. When divorcing a sociopath it is very easy to call oneself a victim and give up. This can be after any type of abuse – physical, emotional and/or psychological. Taking the proper steps to recognize that you have a choice, a voice and through the necessary steps become safe from abuse can propel you to making good choices for yourself and your children. Perhaps you can even pass on what you have learned to others who are dealing with similar situations.
We are a phone call away and are ready to help
If your divorce is or will be in Orange County, California, you may contact us for an affordable initial strategy session. Our law firm has offices in Central and South Orange County. We are ready to help.