How Do You Prove Severe Emotional Abuse In Your Divorce or any Court Proceeding?
Why can’t you both just get along for the sake of the children?” Those words are like nails on a chalkboard to anyone who is divorcing a narcissistic sociopath (narcopath). Divorce brings out the worst in normal people, but a divorce involving a narcopath is like inviting the devil to take part.
The narcissistic sociopath appears charming, charismatic and endearing to those whom he encounters during the legal process, yet outside of the courtroom, he/she is calculated, manipulative and many times, downright dangerous. The untrained observer may perceive the situation to be about two immature adult who can’t get along, or worse, parents who are not capable of putting their children first.
Are you thinking the judge and other court personnel will see you’re narcissistic sociopath ex for who she/he is? How long did it take you? You’re putting way too much faith in the system if you think your judge is going to see your ex-partner, friend or co-worker for the manipulative liar he/she is. Many of the untrained observers are the very people who work in the court system such as Judges, court personnel, and sadly, even the attorneys. A narcissist is like the modern-day version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
I recall the first time I tried to explain to a Judge in a divorce case involving a narcissistic sociopath, that the parent siting at my table wasn’t being unreasonable. I distinctly remember fumbling with my words on how to explain what may look like unreasonableness was really just the opposite. It was not until that very moment that I realized how difficult it is to describe emotional abuse.
As you know, the abusive tactics build on each other, and the re-telling of the events starts sounding like nit-picking, when that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Not to mention, I have the narcopath’s attorney objecting and smirking at how absurd I sounded.
There are no photographs of the injuries. There are no police reports describing the attitude and cooperativeness of the parties. There is no ballistics report. There is no ER report precisely identifying the injuries and the lasting effects it may have on the abused party. Nothing. It was just me trying to explain the unexplainable, with opposing counsel jumping up and down. He objected to my “characterization” of the soon-to-be ex, all the while trying to make Dad look like the crazy one. He objected to every issue I raised the same way – “Your Honor, if we are going to rehash very marital spat between these two we’ll be here until next week, and we adamantly deny these accusations, “I mean what grown woman hides her husband’s keys and medication. Doesn’t it seem more likely Mr. Jones misplaced these items and is looking for someone to blame?” As he addressed the court, he patted the woman on the shoulder as she was dabbing her eyes with a tissue brought to her by the court reporter. I was sinking fast, and the Judge was looking at me for a response. I was speechless. The allegations I was making did sound crazy.
Finding my voice and a coherent string of words, the Judge listened. I could see his eyes gloss over, and knew I was losing him. Scrabbling trying to find the right words to get him back, I noticed the time and asked if we could recess early for the dinner break. Of course, he agreed.
We returned to my office, and I flat told him if I didn’t come up with something to prove his wife was lying, the judge wasn’t going to take his word for it. When I finished, he said he didn’t have any evidence to prove her wrong, and where was he supposed to get evidence like that. As he’s talking, he pulls a little notebook out of his pocket and began flipping through the pages, and telling me all he has are a few tape recordings of telephone calls, most of the emails she sent him and a few text messages, but he didn’t have any “court” evidence. I almost kissed him. After fighting the urge to give him a bear hug, I asked when he started keep a journal, and he said about 6 months before they split. His gut told him something was up again. She had done this kind of thing before, and each time she left him, she always claimed it was because of him, so this time he was going to prove her wrong. He said each morning when he got to work, he spent about 7-8 minutes writing down what happened at home the night before. I looked at it, and for each entry, he recorded the day of the week and the date. Gold, I tell you, this man had gold.
I remember his answer to this day when I looked at him and asked why he hadn’t given me these items when I asked him at our first meeting. I reminded him that I did ask him if he had any evidence for trial, and that he told me no. His reason? He didn’t think his stuff was “court” evidence, and he didn’t want me to think he was stupid if he asked me to explain evidence. We each learned something that day, and it wasn’t anything I was going to find in a law book. I never again assumed a client knew what I was talking about just because they didn’t ask questions. The incorrect assumptions we both made nearly sunk his case from the get-go.
I told you that story to tell you this: Do not expect a narcissistic sociopathic spouse to be any more cooperative during your divorce than she was during the marriage. He/she is not going away quietly. In fact, they get worse. They don’t like losing control, and they go after anyone they think is challenging them, including your lawyer. They become even more manipulative and exploitive, feeling neurotically entitled to get whatever they want. They blame everyone else for their problems, and because they are so self-centered, even while bullying their spouses they often perceive themselves to be the victims. True narcopaths believe they are above the law and feel that the rules do not apply to them, making them notoriously difficult to deal with. It is common during a divorce for narcissists to:
- refuse to give financial information and documents
- refuse to negotiate
- refuse to listen to their own lawyer
- defy court orders
- use the children as pawns
Because they are so competitive, narcissists love the adversarial nature of the legal system and excel at manipulating it to their advantage. They project all of their own faults onto their spouse, playing the role of victim and accusing their spouse of lying, cheating, and being mentally unstable. Much to the frustration and detriment of their spouses, narcissists are often good at making themselves likeable and believable to their lawyer, the judge or a jury.
Narcissists find it hard to accept losing their influence over their estranged spouse’s life and will attempt to find ways to control their ex-spouse even after the divorce is final. This is much easier for them to do if there are children from the marriage, so the narcissist will work over-time attempting to control their ex-spouse through child support, visitation time and co-parenting decisions.
With most courtrooms filtering people in and out like cattle, it is imperative that you have an attorney who understands Malignant Narcissism and Sociopathic Personality Disorders, and that they will work diligently to protect you and your children in many ways. Having an attorney who understands NPD will make sure a strong parenting plan and court orders with zero room for manipulation or wiggle room is in place. Dealing with an attorney who isn’t educated on personality disorders is an extra battle that you will not have the energy to fight. High conflict divorces are difficult enough without the added task of educating your attorney.
If I was interviewing a prospective attorney, I would be very straightforward and direct. I would ask them to describe their personal experience working with clients who were divorcing a narcopath. This question offers a lead-in and one can quickly gauge whether the attorney knows enough to properly represent you. I would ask for examples of situations or cases that fall into the high conflict group and specifically, how he handled them. Any attorney who seems annoyed or put off by your questions is not the attorney that you want on your side. Attorneys sometime forget who is working for whom.
Here are the 6 Questions To Ask A Prospective Attorney:
- How many High Conflict Divorce cases have you handled?
- Can you define sociopathic tendencies and malignant narcissist personality disorder?
- Do you believe there is a link between the HCD (High Conflict Divorce) and these personality disorders?
- Have you ever won a case arguing “Emotional/Psychological Abuse”?
- Do you work closely with psychologists/therapists and/or evaluators experienced in these types of personality disorders?
- In past trials, how have you been able to get the judge to understand that the psychology of personality disorders and how the intentional behavior in one party can be solely responsible for maintaining high conflict divorce?”
Ask around, and, if you have the opportunity, sit in family court a few days. Watch different attorneys and how they handle themselves in the courtroom and whether they have a good rapport with the Judge. When you’ve narrowed down your choice, ask them point-blank the questions I set out above, and whatever you do, if you aren’t sure what the attorney is talking about, then ask. Don’t assume you know what’s in his mind. The only stupid question is the one that goes un-asked. You are choosing an advocate to represent the best interest of your children. Choose wisely.