How Does a Narcissist Handle Divorce and React?

Divorcing a narcissist is a challenge. Learn how a narcissist handles divorce.

How does a narcissist handle divorce? How does a narcissist react to divorce?

Welcome to part three of our divorcing a narcissist guide. Here, we address the question how does a narcissist handle divorce and react to it? How does he or she cope?

If you are considering divorcing a narcissist spouse and these questions come up, it is a good example of the unique anxiety that divorcing a narcissist can cause. Fortunately, there are answers.

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.

- B. Robert Farzad

No person goes into a divorce against a narcissist 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 in California 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 a narcissist husband or wife will respond and react to a divorce.

  1. We will show you how the obstacle of the inevitable divorce in front of you can also be the way to a strong, independent, and more spiritual version of you.
  2. You can overcome the grief and frustration and develop the tools to be a better person as a result.
  3. You can make smart choices with your head, not foolish choices through unhealthy emotions like anger or fear. Emotion (which is energy in motion) can build positive or negative momentum. Recognizing one from the other is the key to forward progress.

Divorcing a narcissist starts with courage. It is the most powerful tool you have to defeat the narcissist."

- B. Robert Farzad

Divorcing a narcissist means there is no cookie-cutter approach

You and your narcissist spouse are unique individuals. There is no cookie cutter approach to divorcing any personality type or psychological profile, including a narcissist.

Therefore, do not assume 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.

We have also written a comprehensive E-Book titled "Divorcing a Narcissist - the Path to Growth and Freedom" which we released in October of 2018. Click on the book's cover to go to the Amazon page.

Image of Divorcing a Narcissist ebook and a link to that book on Amazon

How does a narcissist handle divorce or react in domestic violence and child abuse cases?

If your marriage was fraught with domestic violence and/or child abuse, it is possible a divorce filing or even knowledge that a divorce may be coming may 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 is a paramount concern.

Therefore, 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.

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.

When divorcing a narcissist who is the sole income earner, how does the narcissist handle it or react?

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.

You seek such orders by filing a "request for order." This request for order then sets a court date in the future. Most court dates are 30-90 days away. You will need an attorney's help and please do not attempt to represent yourself, especially if your facts are complex.

Check out our article on requests for order.

When you are the sole income earner and divorcing a narcissist, how does the narcissist handle it or react?

If you are the breadwinner, the situation does become more complicated because your narcissist spouse may seek support and fees against you.

However, with a documented history of child abuse or domestic violence, it should be difficult for that spouse to obtain custody of the children.

Therefore, the 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 in 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. The narcissist cannot handle anything they perceive causes them to lose control. When the narcissist is losing control and their grip on reality has completely slipped, threats like this and other emotional abuse becomes very common.

The narcissist's 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 used, emotional and psychological abuse is a 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 common by narcissist husbands against wives, it does not exist in every case. Emotional abuse exists in every case we have seen when divorcing a narcissist.

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 is typically financial in nature. 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 in financial abuse cases?

Those narcissists who engage in financial abuse often have the same playbook. We have seen it many times. They may think they are being clever. They are not. They are the same fools as the fools before them.

a diagram of common financial abuse habits
Do not fear the financial abuser's playbook. Take action. It is the narcissist who should be afraid of his or her misconduct.

There are a lot of different types of financial abuse 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 do not so much care about a narcissist spouse's coping mechanisms as much as we do about its impact.

Once your divorce is over, 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 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.

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 or Talking Parents. Take away the narcissist's opportunity to engage and upset you.

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 will not 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.

Keep custody exchanges curbside and without unnecessary communication

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.

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.

The narcissist is a weak and insecure bully. Like all bullies, he or she is really a coward. That is why the narcissist is counting on your surrender. That may be the only way he or she comes out ahead. Do not give your physically or emotionally abusive spouse the satisfaction. Your priorities are you and your children - their physical, emotional and financial security and your own.

- B. Robert Farzad

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.

We are experienced family law attorneys for those divorcing a narcissist

Our family law firm has the knowledge and experience to help you through this very difficult time in your life. Contact us and let's chat about your case and put your worries to rest. We offer an affordable, initial strategy session.

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