This is How to Divorce a Covert or Malignant Narcissist and Do It Right
Proven divorce strategies and tactics on how to divorce a narcissist and break their will to fight
This guide is the no nonsense truth on how to divorce a narcissist
There is so much bad information on the internet about how to divorce a narcissist. The nonsense comes from uninformed lawyers who pretend to understand narcissism or therapists who pretend to understand divorce litigation.
Skip the nonsense. This is not that. This is one of our guides that gives you proven divorce strategies and tactics that work inside and outside the courtroom.
The strategies and tactics are proven because we use them in the divorce cases we handle against narcissists. We know they work because we see it work. And they work regardless of whether you are divorcing a narcissistic husband or wife.
Our family law firm also wrote the E-Book on this subject. You can find it on Amazon. It is called, "Divorcing a Narcissist - The Path to Growth and Freedom."
Let's get started. It is time you learn the truth about divorcing a narcissist. It is time you learn how to divorce a narcissist and win.
When you divorce a narcissist, you need a plan
If you walk into the divorce without one and try to "feel" your way through it, you may be in trouble. Preparing for a divorce against a narcissist is essential.
The best plans include a checklist.
It is your "to do" list and if you can keep your focus, you can not only get through it but you can get across the finish line with the right result...yes, even when divorcing a narcissistic and abusive spouse.
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.
Chapters to this Divorcing a Narcissist Guide
Now that you know the basics, let us get into the details. That is why you are here, right? Knowledge and discipline is how you get through this the right way.
Each of the images below will take you to a different section of the article. Click on each image to jump ahead to a specific topic...or, just as good, skip this table of contents and read our how-to-guide from start to finish.
We also created an introductory video you will love. The video will summarize the content in this guide if you prefer to watch versus read...or you can watch and read and get the most of this guide. For the visually impaired, we offer a transcript of the video.
As you read this guide, you will see parts of testimonials from former clients. Testimonials do not represent nor guarantee you will get the same or similar result. Case results depend on their specific facts and other factors.
What is a Covert Narcissist?
In fiction, they call this person Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In your life, it is your spouse.
Ready to learn more about someone you already know?
The covert narcissist is the monster full of fake charm
A covert narcissistic spouse is the one who is both Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll is the one other men and women who are not close to the narcissist see.
When you are in a narcissistic marriage, Mr. Hyde is the one you know - an evil character whose expertise is gaslighting. Covert narcissists and gaslighting are like "peas and carrots." You do not get one without the other.
Lots of practice made the covert narcissist persuasive to others
A covert narcissist is a different person among those who are close to him versus those who are not.
He or she may come across as a completely different human being among casual friends versus that of his or her family. In that respect, the covert is dual personality whose real character comes out to those who are around him most.
Divorcing a covert narcissistic spouse takes a tactical approach
If the approach you take to divorcing a covert narcissist is the same as any other divorce, you will find the process miserable and likely unsuccessful.
By the way, that is what many lawyers do even though they try to talk a good game.
That is why we emphasize the importance of choosing the right divorce attorney for the job. You must take a tactical approach, one that disarms the narcissist before defeating him or her.
What we write applies to the malignant narcissist
What we write here applies to the malignant narcissist. The malignant narcissist often crosses over into the sociopath or psychopath spectrum.
Malignant narcissists are dangerous people. They are the belligerent and abusive characters who do not try to hide it.
They can be scary if you do not know how to deal with them. Watching them fall flat on their face during divorce is one of the great joys in what we do for a living.
All narcissistic spouses want one thing
They want their spouse to give up. That is right. If your spouse is a covert or malignant narcissist, he or she wants you to give up and be their pawn. And you experienced this during the marriage - that "power" control the narcissist wants. A narcissistic marriage = a narcissistic divorce.
That surrender the narcissist wants means the narcissist won, using their own tortured interpretation of victory.
Very few things will frustrate a narcissistic spouse more than their spouse who says "no" and refuses to accept less than what the law mandates.
We discuss the importance of "no" below. Get used to that word. You will say it a lot.
Why do we care about your spouse's narcissist behavior?
We care for only one reason. We want to get you through this in the most tactical and effective way.
If we did not care about the means and the end, we would not care about your spouse's personality.
Narcissistic behavior changes expectations during a divorce
That is the bottom line. You cannot walk into a divorce with a narcissist expecting the process to be the same as any other divorce.
It will not be the same.
Any divorce attorney who tells you differently or downplays the importance of a spouse's narcissistic personality disorder in the divorce process is either ignorant or inexperienced...and probably both.
Stages of divorcing a narcissist
Some people ask if there are stages of divorcing a narcissist. By that they mean whether the divorce goes through different stages because their spouse is a narcissist.
The short is answer is no. However, we see the narcissist himself or herself go through different stages. There are four stages.
The narcissist is angry you hired a lawyer and intend to get what you are entitled to receive.
At this stage, the narcissist is full of threats and many of them are noise intended to dissuade you. The narcissist wants you to return to being under his or her control.
About two to four months into the process, the narcissist starts to realize you are not backing down. Now you have a nervous narcissistic spouse but they probably will not admit it.
The time period may be shorter or longer depending on how self-absorbed and delusional the narcissist is. At this stage is when you hear him or her talk about "settling" but in vague terms. They may even throw in the "let's do mediation" line - trust us, once you have been through a mediation with a narcissist who is not reasonable, you realize what a waste of time and money mediation is.
Most of the time the narcissist is not sincere at this stage. And negotiating with the narcissist is often futile. They just want you to slow down or change course. Sometimes however, they are ready to surrender.
This is the stage where the narcissist is more serious about settlement. He or she is getting beat up in court proceedings and wants to end it. The narcissist is losing control.
However, if their ego is huge and you are dealing with a higher net worth estate and income, there is a reasonable chance settlement falls apart. That is because the narcissist may view the settlement as a "defeat" or admission of his or her own foolishness. That is not easy for the narcissist to accept.
Stage four is one of two things - a defeated narcissist because of a good settlement or a return to an angry narcissist because the divorce did not settle and is in trial. This is the most unpredictable stage.
Yes, these are generalities and your situation may be different. And notice they are all based around how the narcissist reacts to the divorce. However, there is the irony.
The biggest factor is not the narcissist.
It is you - your courage, your decision making process, and your willingness to make the time and financial investment into the process.
That is why you are reading this article, right? Your conduct is the one you can control.
The style we author this article about how to divorce a narcissist is different
We will be direct. We do not write in ten sentences what we can communicate in three.
The Physically and Emotionally Abusive Narcissist
When lack of anger management meets a Cluster B personality disorder, abuse follows.
Here is what you do about it.
Your narcissistic spouse likes to push and hit - here is how you hit back
Get a restraining order and do not back down after you file
Personality disorder means little if the narcissist is physically abusive.
Get a restraining order and get the longest one the judge will give you. The family law court system helps victims of domestic violence.
California has come a long way in the past twenty years. Access to justice for domestic violence victims is more available now than ever before.
If you think a high conflict personality who physically abused you is not a danger to your personal safety, you do not value your personal safety or you are out of touch with reality.
And that is the abusive narcissist's divorce tactic - to keep you in fear and out of touch with reality, or to make the cost of you being free from the narcissist so great, that whether you stay or leave, the cost you paid meant the narcissist still won.
Keep your physical and emotional distance
- There is no need to communicate with the narcissist. If you have children together, there are internet programs and applications that allow focused, limited communication that is necessary. We will introduce those to you.
- Do not be around the narcissist. Do not invest time asking or wondering what the narcissist is doing or saying about you. You make yourself a mental prisoner when you do that.
- Forget co-parenting with a narcissistic spouse who is physically and/or emotionally abusive. It is not practical.
- If the narcissist engages in misconduct, contact your attorney. Otherwise, keep your physical and emotional distance.
- The goal is not to let the narcissistic spouse take control of the divorce process. You remain in control because you ensure the misconduct does not go unpunished.
Emotionally abusive narcissists are bullies and cowards, but they have no power over you
- Become a good stoic. The narcissist has no power over you.
- The narcissist does not make you angry. You choose to feel anger.
- The narcissist does not stress you out. You choose to inflict yourself with that stress.
- The only power the narcissist has is the power you give the narcissist.
In the immortal words of the late Dr. Viktor Frankl (the man survived Auschwitz, so he knew more than all of us about this subject):
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
Seek therapy because you need it and it will give you the tools to thrive
- A quality mental health professional can give you the tools to recover from the emotional abuse and avoid further emotional abuse.
- You have health insurance. Use it.
- The narcissistic spouse is full of grandiose self-importance. That is the unhealthy version.
- Your self-importance is your realization that you matter, and you can and will take ownership of your choices, which you are free to make.
- When you free yourself of the narcissist's control, you realize your spouse never had control.
- The control you thought your spouse had was the one you gave up, not the one your narcissistic spouse took.
The Narcissist Who Financially Abuses You
It is all about the money. The narcissist will tell you that to your face but will lie to everyone else about it.
Financially abusive narcissists think it is their money and only theirs
When you divorce a narcissist who is the higher earning spouse or has a greater access to money, that money becomes a weapon. Expect the narcissist to use it. The narcissist's divorce tactic is to financially starve you and win a war of attrition.
That is because the narcissistic spouse sees that money as "his" or "hers" and certainly not something in which you should share.
Narcissists do not "share" willingly (their parents did not teach it to them or they never learned it) and they often thrive by taking advantage of others, especially those who are closest to them.
Be proactive about your right of access to money
- You have a need for support. Seek support, whether that is child support, spousal support, or both.
- Do not assume the narcissist will do the right thing. That is dumb.
- The odds are heavily against it. You have the right to temporary support while the divorce is pending.
- Do you have a need for money to pay a family law attorney? Hire a family law attorney to file an attorney fee request for order. This is not a war of attrition.
California law and our court system is clear that family courts have a duty to avoid a war of attrition
Learn about your rights pursuant to Family Code 2030, 2031 and 2032. We link to a guide on this issue.
Seek sanctions for the narcissist's misconduct
Family Code 271 is a code section that punishes bad behavior
And the good news is Family Code 271 is one of several code sections that punishes misconduct by your narcissistic spouse.
If the narcissist engages in litigation conduct that unnecessarily increases attorney's fees or causes unreasonable delays, you have options.
If the narcissist breaches his or her fiduciary duties to you on financial issues, the law gives you specific remedies.
The narcissist's divorce tactic is to (a) engage in misconduct and (b) get away with it
You cannot stop the first. You can stop the second.
You are not trying to get the narcissist to regret the divorce, although do not be surprised if the narcissist misses the "good old days" when he or she had control over you. You are trying to get the narcissist to regret trying to financially or emotionally hurt you or your children during the divorce.
Children Are the Narcissistic Parent's Leverage
For the covert or malignant narcissist, children are a means to an end. They are leverage.
You know this already. Here is what you do about it.
Your children are too important to allow a narcissistic parent to raise them
Stop worrying about what the narcissist "wants", "says" or "feels"
Narcissists love being the center of attention. Therefore, when you talk about, think about, and worry about what the narcissist wants, says or feels, you give the narcissist power.
Their common narcissistic divorce tactic is get you to care about what they care about. That is the doorway to their control.
Stop doing it. The only person who should care about such garbage is the narcissist.
Narcissistic parenting is a danger to children
Narcissistic parenting emotionally abuses the children. And that is what narcissists do - they abuse anyone close to them.
With children, it gets worse. Narcissistic parenting teaches children that is how parenting should be. Children then get older, and may copy that model. There is thus a risk they become narcissistic in their own parenting.
That is why you must be vigilant with your parenting and reasonably protective of the children so they do not grow up with narcissistic parenting as their model.
Place your singular focus on the children's best interest when divorcing a narcissist
Nothing matters other than the children's health, safety, education and general welfare.
Learn to say "no" when divorcing a narcissist
- The narcissist wants something from you. The request is not reasonable. The answer is no.
- Make it a clear no without lamenting, feeling guilt or spending hours thinking about it. It is simply no.
This is important for several reasons. One reason you may forget is your spouse is going to become your narcissistic ex-spouse. You are going through a divorce, right?
Saying no to unreasonable requests will eventually cause your ex to stop asking, hopefully before he or she becomes the "ex."
If you do not do this, you may not like the aftermath of divorcing a narcissist. Custody cases do not end with a divorce, especially if the children are young.
You need to set a precedent. "No" is the start to that precedent so you will hopefully have a less or non-abusive narcissist after divorce.
One more thing on this topic - we are not saying you will not deal with a vindictive narcissistic ex husband or ex wife. You cannot change how the narcissist ex thinks or feels.
What you can do is put enough fear into the narcissistic ex husband or ex wife that he or she will not want to act on that vindictiveness.
Learn about parallel parenting when you are dealing with a narcissistic parent
Co-parenting with a narcissist is often a fool's goal. Yes, you can try to co-parent with the narcissist. And you should at least try. However, what you may learn is the self-absorbed and delusions of grandeur perspective they share rarely allows collaborative dialogue and mutual respect in raising children.
Is there an alternative to co-parenting with a narcissist?
You should read our guide on parallel parenting. It is the alternative to co-parenting.
If you do not know what parallel parenting is, prepare to have your eyes opened.
The Narcissist's Unreasonable Child or Spousal Support Requests Must Fail
First, turn on your brain.
Second, make a commitment to focus on the facts and the law.
Third, do the following...
You need the narcissist's financial support so what are you waiting for? Get it!
Find out what your spouse should pay and seek exactly that.
An experienced and skilled family law attorney should tell you what to expect in child and/or spousal support.
Once you know the amount and the family law attorney tells you the window is open to seek it, go for it.
If you spend weeks or month negotiating with the narcissist, you may find weeks or months of wasted time.
File the contempt action when your spouse violates the court order
Did your spouse not pay the support? Your family law attorney should write your spouse or his or her lawyer a letter.
Did it happen again? File the contempt action. Few things get a narcissist sweating like facing fines, community service or jail time.
What if you are the higher earning spouse?
Find out what you should pay and pay it. If you do not feel it is fair, get over it.
Family law does not focus on fairness. Somebody always thinks something is unfair.
Delay payment and you may find yourself paying the same amount after spending thousands of dollars in attorney's fees.
Is that better? No, it is not. All you did was delay the inevitable.
Ignore the narcissist's delusional cries of injustice
Nothing you pay will be fair.
That is how a narcissist who is the lower earning spouse may believe. Therefore, ignore the whining and other noise.
The narcissist's divorce tactic when he or she is the lower earning spouse is to get you and others to believe you are "financially screwing" him or her over - and the kids if you have any.
They think if they whine about that long enough and loud enough, it eventually becomes true.
The narcissist does this because they are counting on you creating your own financial detriment, out of guilt. And sometimes it works, but not with those who use their heads and set emotion aside.
Make the Narcissist Make a Commitment
Unless you like spending years going through a divorce, make the narcissist commit to his or her community and separate property claims.
And once you do, use what we lay out below to get the right result the law requires.
When the assets are community property, the process gets easier
Discover early what everyone should get and make settlement offers.
Once you have all the facts you need to divide community property, get aggressive with settlement communication.
You are doing this to attempt settlement and set up the narcissist for an attorney's fee request if he or she rejects the reasonable offer.
Focus on solutions when the narcissist wants to focus on problems
The more there are problems, the more the narcissist has a means to voice manufactured grievances. You do not focus on problems. You focus on solutions.
Collaborate with your lawyer and if there is an issue that needs addressing, then address it. Do not procrastinate. Either resolve it or go to court.
Divorce against a narcissist is not like wine. It does not improve with age.
How to divorce a narcissist when you have separate property claims to assets
The asset is your separate property. You have facts, evidence and the law on your side. What do you do?
Make your spouse admit or deny the validity of your separate property claims
The discovery tool is called a request for admissions. There are two types.
- One type requires your spouse to admit or deny the truthfulness of a fact.
- The other type requires him or her to admit to the genuineness of certain documents.
These are powerful tools when divorcing a narcissist.
If your spouse denies the truthfulness of the facts and you later at a hearing or trial prove the truthfulness of that fact or facts, you can seek attorney's fees against your spouse for the cost to you of proving that fact.
That is not the only way to seek fees. It is however one of the most powerful ways.
Avoid waiving attorney's fees if the narcissist unreasonably increased your fees
- If you incurred significant attorney's fees, do not walk away from your claims.
- There is a time and place for settlement and compromise and the courthouse steps may not be it.
- You can still settle the issues, but that settlement does not mean you walk away from your fee request.
- If the narcissist makes that waiver a condition of the settlement, speak with your attorney and assess the likelihood of winning.
- You are 95% to the finish line anyway, right? What is the harm of going the extra 5%? That is what you need to evaluate.
How to divorce a narcissist with his or her separate property claims
Flush out the facts and evidence in support of the narcissist's separate property claims.
If your spouse is right, concede the separate property claim.
That requires him or her to have the facts and law on his or her side and therefore have admissible evidence in support of his or her position.
The Narcissist Can Run, But the Narcissist Cannot Hide
Do you know what a narcissistic spouse hates more than anything else? If you guessed "being transparent", you are dead on right.
That is what the disclosure and discovery process is all about.
And here is what you do when your narcissistic spouse shuns the transparency.
What if your spouse refuses to serve accurate or complete disclosures?
Disclosures are not discretionary. Both you and your spouse must exchange them. If the narcissist decides not to serve the disclosure, act.
File the motion to compel accurate and complete disclosures
California Family Code gives you the right to file a request that compels your spouse to serve complete and accurate disclosures.
The odds of you getting back the attorney's fees you spent on that request are good. The code section specifically allows for it.
File the evidentiary, issue or terminating sanctions when appropriate
If your spouse still does not comply after the court order file a request for some or all the above sanctions.
These shut the narcissist out of the courtroom and do not allow him or her to admit evidence. The terminating sanction removes your spouse from the process.
How to divorce a narcissist who refuses to cooperate in the discovery process
Here is the systematic approach:
- Conduct a cost versus benefit analysis.
- Are there alternatives to getting the information?
- If not, file the motion to compel response or further responses and seek your attorney's fees.
- File the evidentiary, issue or terminating sanctions if your spouse does not comply with the court order.
It is time to choose your divorce lawyer. Be smart about it.
Here is your checklist.
1. Be careful of those ignorant of how divorcing a narcissist changes the divorce
Those divorce lawyers are the ones who give poor legal advice, or no advice at all.
Some try to talk a good game but their lack of litigation experience in a high conflict divorce inside the courtroom should tell you everything. You do not want a "paper tiger," as they are called.
Ask them the tough questions about court proceedings, planning, preparation and ask them to give you examples.
2. Be careful of those who pretend to know how to handle a divorce against a narcissist
If they cannot give you specific strategic advice about your situation and the litigation tactics often employed by spouses like yours, they probably lack the experience to handle your high conflict divorce.
3. Be careful of any divorce attorney who plays to your emotions
This is never okay to do.
This is what salespeople do.
You do not want a "yes" attorney, one who gets you emotionally riled up, tells you what you want to hear, and speaks in cliches...instead of facts, law and evidence.
4. Vet the divorce attorney's experience, intelligence and candor
This is self-explanatory and maybe even obvious but since we often take over cases from other lawyers who did not do the job, we do not believe most people really take the time to know who will represent them.
You should take that time and listen carefully for vague or broad answers about strategy, tactics and the law. That is a red flag.
Be realistic about your financial ability to afford litigation
Legal advice includes managing expectations and that management includes legal fees.