We wrote the article Divorcing a Narcissist, part I on March 12 and promised you a part II. This is part II of Divorcing a Narcissist and this article focuses on the option available to a higher earner spouse when the lower earner’s narcissism causes unnecessary divorce litigation and fees, including circumstances when the other spouse uses the children as leverage.
How narcissists use children as leverage
Contested California child custody cases can become contentious. Lower earning spouses who are frustrated or wish to take their anger out on a higher earning spouse often use the children to punish the other spouse. This can manifest itself in several ways including interfering with the other parent’s custodial rights, interfering with the other’s parenting time, using alienation and conditioning tactics, making false allegations of child abuse or false allegations of domestic violence and involving the children in the custody litigation.
Interference with legal custody rights, including the noncustodial parents rights, that violate a court order is punishable by contempt. Contempt requires the filing of a petition that brings to the court’s attention the violation. The punishment for contempt can be jail time and community service.
Contempt should be used in more egregious cases and not every time there is a disagreement between the parents or a non-substantive violation of a court order. Contempt cases can be time-consuming because they involve potential criminal consequences and therefore have to go through a formal arraignment, pretrial and trial process. For serious violations, they are well worth it. Since lower earning spouses who engage in misconduct often believe they have “nothing to lose” as a result of their misconduct, a contempt petition definitely gets their attention and puts them on notice that the other spouse isn’t going to sit idly by and let violations of court order to occur.
Alienation, conditioning of children and false allegations by the narcissist
Alienation, conditioning of the children, or false allegations of abuse can all be combated by a request for modification of custody and visitation. It is not in the children’s best interest to have significant parenting time with a parent who engages in any of this misconduct.
Parents who engage in this misconduct also cause serious emotional abuse to their children and further cause damage to the other parent’s relationship with the children. California family Law appellate cases have ruled that parents who make false allegations of abuse or engage in alienation or conditioning of the children should lose parenting time and joint legal rights in order to protect the children.
What steps should you take before you bring the modification request? First, document the misconduct. Your Orange County divorce attorney should do this with your spouse’s lawyer and you should keep a journal of the misconduct. Second, identify witnesses to the misconduct and inform your attorney of them so he or she can interview the witnesses and obtain statements from them.
If you fail to act and allow the alienation and conditioning to continue, it will generally fester. Once the children are alienated from you, it can be very difficult to get them back. Children sometimes need psychological counseling to assist them after years of parental alienation.
Bringing the attorney fee and sanctions motions against the narcissist
“But my spouse doesn’t work. How can I get attorney fees?”
It’s a question we hear often. Even family lawyers share this misconception. Our answer is, “who said attorney fees are limited to earnings?”
California law does not limit attorney fee awards, especially Family Code 271 awards, to earnings. If you have a community estate, such as a home with equity, money in the bank or with other financial institutions, personal property of value or an expected buyout or other money that may be coming to your spouse in the divorce, that can be used to pay the attorney fee and sanctions award. Even spousal support could be used for an award of attorney fees under certain circumstances.
Do you see how you have options? For example, let’s say you have $300,000.00 in equity in a community residence. If your wife is entitled to half of that, you use that as a basis for awarding sanctions against your spouse. Do you think your spouse, who is the lower-income earner, will think twice before using the children as leverage or engaging in misconduct knowing she may be paying for it through her share of the equity? This is just one of several examples.
But let’s say there are few assets. What then? Is your spouse seeking spousal support or getting it? Has she made an attorney fee request or do you expect one? What you request is an “offset” of each as the sanction against your spouse. That will not only get your narcissist spouse’s attention but will also get his or her lawyer’s attention who may have been counting on that attorney fee award to be paid the fees your narcissist spouse owes him or her.
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