How to Divorce a Narcissist: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Divorce a Narcissist: A Comprehensive Guide

Divorcing a spouse is not easy. When you're dealing with a narcissist, the process can be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining.

This updated, comprehensive guide will walk you through how to divorce a narcissist while protecting your rights, mental health, and future.

  • Are you short on time or prefer audio? Press the play button below. It is a little over three minutes and provides you with steps on how to divorce a narcissist.
  • Would you prefer to read and get more details on how to divorce a narcissist? We encourage you to read the entire article.

Audio Summary of How to Divorce a Narcissist

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Understanding Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Before getting into the divorce process, let's discuss what you're dealing with. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by:

  • An inflated sense of self-importance (more so than a typical person).
  • A deep need for excessive attention and admiration.
  • Lack of empathy for others.
  • Troubled relationships.

Recognizing these traits in your spouse can help you prepare for the challenges in your divorce journey.

Preparing for Divorce from a Narcissist

Emotional Preparation

Divorcing a narcissist can be an emotional rollercoaster. Here are some steps to prepare yourself:

  1. Build a support network of friends, family, and professionals.
  2. Consider therapy to strengthen your mental resilience.
  3. Practice self-care and stress-management techniques.
  4. Set realistic expectations for the California divorce process, which can only be done by talking to an experienced divorce attorney who understands high-conflict divorces.

Financial Preparation

Narcissists often use finances as a control tool. Protect yourself by:

  1. Gathering all financial documents (bank and financial account statements, tax returns, deeds, retirement statements, vehicle titles, etc.).
  2. Opening separate bank accounts and credit cards if you are able. It is best to consult with a divorce attorney to get your questions answered before you make these choices to avoid breaching your fiduciary duties.
  3. Monitoring your credit report for any suspicious activity. You would be surprised how often a narcissist destroys their spouse's credit.
  4. Consulting with a reputable financial advisor, ideally one that comes from a well-known and highly reputable firm.

Legal Preparation

Being legally prepared is critical when divorcing a narcissist:

  1. Research California divorce laws and understand your rights.
  2. Document instances of abuse or manipulation. Save photos or videos you may have, as well as texts, emails, or other electronic or written documentation.
  3. Secure important personal documents and keep them in a safe place.
  4. Begin gathering evidence that may be useful in court. Your divorce attorney can lay out what you need. Hiring one early and well before you decide to file is important.

Steps to Divorce a Narcissist

Choosing the Right Divorce Attorney

graphic of a female with a description of what a family law attorney should be and should not be

When learning how to divorce a narcissist, selecting the right attorney is crucial. Look for a lawyer who:

  1. Has experience dealing with high-conflict divorces.
  2. Understands narcissistic personality traits.
  3. Is assertive and won't be intimidated by your spouse's tactics.
  4. Communicates clearly and keeps you informed throughout the process.

Setting Boundaries

Establishing and maintaining boundaries:

  1. Limit direct communication with your spouse.
  2. Use written communication methods when possible.
  3. Don't engage in arguments or emotional manipulation.
  4. Focus on facts and legal matters, not emotional issues.

Mediation vs. Litigation

Consider your options carefully:

  • Mediation: This can be challenging with a narcissist but may be worth trying so long as you have representation throughout the mediation process.
  • Litigation is often necessary when dealing with an uncooperative narcissist, which is why it is so important to hire someone with litigation experience.

Discuss the pros and cons of each approach with your attorney to determine the best strategy for your situation.

Dealing with Gaslighting and Manipulation

Narcissists often employ manipulative tactics during divorce:

  1. Stay focused on facts and documentation.
  2. Don't let your spouse provoke you into emotional reactions.
  3. Communicate through your attorney when possible.
  4. Be prepared for false accusations.

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist After Divorce

Graphic of a child with puppet strings with text on the side regarding narcissists seeing children as leverage

If children are involved, co-parenting with a narcissist presents challenges:

  1. Establish a detailed parenting plan in your divorce agreement. Do not rely on vague terms. Those are a disaster when dealing with high-conflict personalities.
  2. Use a co-parenting app for communication and scheduling. We compare two popular ones in this article.
  3. Document all important interactions related to the children.
  4. Focus on the children's best interests, not winning against your ex. Remember, your narcissistic ex loves conflict and wants to engage you in it, no matter how trivial the event may be.
  5. Consider parallel parenting if co-parenting proves too difficult.
  6. Read our terrific guide on California child custody laws.

Self-Care and Recovery

Recovering from divorcing a narcissist takes time:

  1. Continue therapy.
  2. Join support groups for individuals who have divorced narcissists.
  3. Focus on personal growth and rediscovering your interests.
  4. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories. It takes time to move forward from abuse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long does it take to divorce a narcissist?

A: The duration can vary, but divorces involving narcissists often take longer due to their tendency to prolong the process. Read our article on how long a divorce takes to learn more.

Q: Can I get full custody if my spouse is a narcissist?

A: While a spouse's narcissistic traits can be considered in custody decisions, you'll need to prove that these traits negatively impact the children's well-being. Document any instances of abuse or neglect.

Q: How do I protect my finances when divorcing a narcissist?

A: Work closely with your divorce attorney and a financial advisor. Your divorce attorney and, if your situation involves one, your forensic accountant can advise you on these issues. When you need tax advice, you should consult with a tax professional.

Q: What if my narcissistic spouse refuses to divorce?

A: In California, you can still proceed with a divorce even if your spouse doesn't agree. Your narcissistic spouse has no say in that.

Q: How can I stay strong during the divorce process?

A: Build a strong support network, prioritize self-care, work with a therapist, and focus on your long-term goals and well-being.

Your Next Steps

Divorcing a narcissist is challenging, but with the right preparation, support, and legal guidance, you can navigate this difficult process successfully. Your well-being and future are worth fighting for.

If you're facing the prospect of divorcing a narcissistic spouse or are already going through a divorce in California, don't go through it alone or with ineffective legal representation. Contact our experienced family law attorneys for a strategy session. We're here to guide and protect you through every step of the process.

Below is a helpful table and checklist when divorcing a narcissist. Below the table, you can find more information on how to contact us for help.

Checklist for How to Divorce a Narcissist


Physically and Emotionally Abusive Narcissist

  • Consider a restraining order if the narcissist's conduct meets the legal definition of "abuse."
  • If you filed the restraining order, do not back down. Take it to the hearing and get your court order.
  • Seek the advice of a therapist and attend regular therapy to keep your mind calm and focused.

Financially Abusive Narcissist

  • Do not buy into the the narcissist's claim it is "his" or "her" money. The law controls whose money it is.
  • Be proactive in getting proper, lawful access to community property accounts.
  • Go after the narcissist for attorney's fees, including need-based fees, sanctions, or both.

Custody Custody Battle with Narcissists

  • Stop caring about what the narcissistic parent "wants."
  • Focus on the children's best interest and nothing else.
  • Learn to say or write the word "no" to the narcissist when he or she wants to not follow the court order.

Child and Spousal Support Litigation

  • File the request for order to get what the law requires the narcissist pay you.
  • File the contempt action if the narcissist fails to pay what the court ordered.
  • If you are the paying spouse, do not agree to pay anything more than what the law requires.

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