The word “narcissist” is often used to describe someone who is vain or egotistical, but the truth is, most people do exhibit these qualities to some extent in their daily lives. What distinguishes narcissism from ordinary levels of selfishness are extreme symptoms of personality traits such as arrogance, entitlement and delusions of grandeur. People with Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are highly frustrating to deal with, and may even be dangerous when they exploit others for their own gain. While you can choose to ignore such individuals in most cases, it's not that simple when you are divorced with children.
Many individuals with narcissistic spouses make great efforts to highlight their spouse's behavior in court, only to find that the courts rarely intervene unless there is clear and present danger to the children. New Jersey family courts believe in preserving one's parental rights as much as possible, because as a general rule, it is beneficial for children to have a relationship with both parents. Thus, even if your spouse is cruel, deceitful, uncompromising, etc., towards you, what matters in custody issues is the parent's behavior toward the children. As a result, most divorced parents are forced to deal with their ex on some level, even if they minimize contact and set firm boundaries.
Regardless of the court's interpretation, most psychologists do not believe that it's truly possible to co-parent with a narcissist. Parents are advised to stick to the legal mandates of their parenting plan, while redefining their personal beliefs and expectations. As difficult as it is, parents are advised to ignore below-the-belt comments, or reacting at all to anything that the other parent says. They must also accept that they have no control over how things are run at the other parent's house since things like open communication and negotiation are not possible with a narcissist. Instead, they are advised to focus on providing the healthiest environment possible for their kids, and to go through a third party professional such as an attorney if the other parent's consent or participation is absolutely necessary.
An attorney, specifically a family law attorney with extensive trial experience is essential, because resolving issues such as modifying the parenting plan, relocating with your child, etc., is likely to require court intervention. Legal action is also necessary if your child starts exhibiting symptoms of abuse or neglect. While the majority of narcissists are not intentionally abusive to their children, their tunnel vision focus on getting what they want regardless of the consequences can put their children at risk of physical or psychological harm.
Co-parenting with a narcissistic ex is an unfortunate fact of life for many divorced individuals. Therapists and support groups can help you work through your frustrations, but situations that threaten the emotional and physical well-being of your children require legal assistance from a family law attorney. For more information on your parental rights and legal options, please speak with the experienced family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.