Divorcing a narcissist? Your must read guide to your options

written by

Emma Heptonstall

Emmaheptonstall.com Image

date published

14th February 2022

What’s the divorce holy grail? The C word. Not that one! Or that one either… the divorce holy grail is Collaboration. A mutually agreed end to the marriage, with a mutually agreed divorce settlement, supported by helpful professionals when needed. Amicable all the way. 

Sadly, vanishingly few get the holy grail. And if you’re in a high conflict marriage, your chances are nil. I know that’s hard to hear. But it’s the truth, and once you know the truth you can prepare for it. In this blog we take a look at what your soon-to-be-ex’s narcissistic traits mean for your divorce process. If you’re divorcing a narcissist this is your must-read guide to your options. 

The pitfalls of mediation

I, along with family law organisation Resolution, usually recommend mediation as your best pathway to divorce. Family mediation puts you and your soon-to-be-ex in control of divorce decisions, rather than at the mercy of a judge. It is usually quicker and more cost effective. And it can help keep the emotional heat low. 

This is all true so long as you are not trying to collaborate with a narcissist. There are three big reasons why narcissists do not suit the mediation process:

  1. They can’t empathise. Which means they can’t work towards a compromise – they can’t see that you have needs separate from their own. 
  2. They can’t fail. The narcissist will come to the negotiating table with what they want. Achieving anything different will be seen as a failure. So it’s impossible to have a constructive discussion about a fair outcome.
  3. They can’t take responsibility. When/if things go wrong, it’s never their fault. They are always the victim. Mediation relies on a conversation between two people with equal power. If one party refuses to accept responsibility for the consequences of any of their actions, it’s a non-starter.

The real danger comes if your narcissist suggests mediation, and you enter into discussions unprepared. Narcissists can be charming and disarming. They can be very persuasive, convincing both you and a mediator that their suggestions are fair. 

So, be on your guard. Be clear about what your wants and needs are, and if you start a mediation process but then feel under pressure, stop. There are other options. 

Document everything

Before we get into the different options for reaching agreement, here’s something to remember, whatever else happens.

What’s the answer when someone swears black is white, they didn’t do it and if they did you told them to? Documentation is one essential weapon. It won’t solve all your problems. But it will be a lot harder for your soon-to-be-ex to, for example, claim they see the children ‘all the time’, if you have listed all the actual time they spent together. 

Make a note of everything: childcare arrangements, when and how they contact you, if they show up at your home unannounced, if they remove your belongings. 

Also get copies or take photos of all your financial information – so if it ‘goes missing’ or your soon-to-be-ex claims otherwise, you have evidence. 

As well as strengthening your case when you are talking to professionals, your record will remind you that you aren’t losing your mind – they actually did do and say those things. 

Finding the right solicitor

If finances allow, I recommend you instruct a solicitor if you’re divorcing someone with high conflict personality traits. Narcissists are manipulative, and it’s highly useful to get a professional pair of eyes on your case. Remember you don’t need to do this straight away, you can spend some time getting your information together first (read more on when to instruct a solicitor here). This is also something I can help with on an Ask the Alchemist call. 

If you’ve not worked with a solicitor before, it can feel intimidating. But remember, you are the client here. You are in the driving seat. Not all solicitors are trained in high conflict cases. When you’re choosing your legal representation:

  • Ask them how experienced they are in dealing with high conflict
  • Ask them what relevant training they’ve had
  • Ask them how open they are to alternative resolution methods (like the ones I’m about to share with you in this blog, below)
  • Think about whether you can develop a good working relationship with them – it’s important you feel able to trust them.

Shop around until you find someone you feel comfortable with. 

Hybrid mediation

Mediation doesn’t have to be completely off the table. But it is important you do it in a way that doesn’t leave you exposed. That’s where hybrid meditation can come in. 

Hybrid mediation has the same purpose as standard mediation: for you and your soon-to-be-ex to reach agreement without the intervention of the courts. Where it differs is that the mediator brings in professionals to support your discussion process as needed. They might be financial professionals, such as accountants or financial advisers, or welfare-related, such as psychiatrists or social workers. In hybrid mediation you may also work with the mediator separately, rather than in meetings together. 

All this means you have a team around you so you are less likely to be railroaded or manipulated into an unfair settlement. Resolution maintains a list of trained hybrid mediators. 

Early neutral evaluation

An early neutral evaluation (ENE) is another way to keep your case out of court. Which means it can help reduce costs and lower hostilities. With an ENE, also known as ‘private judging’ a QC, retired judge or trained lawyer reviews your case and makes a non-binding judgement.

What’s the point if it’s non-binding? Well, it gives a good indication of what a court judge would decide at a hearing. Which can then form the basis of negotiations. If you have a narcissist ex who won’t be reasonable, having an ENE can help show them where a court battle will end up. Which can then be enough of a reality check to get them to negotiate terms without resorting to the costs, delays and formalities of a court judgement. 

The other advantage of an ENE is that you have more control over when it happens – you are not at the mercy of court timings. Your evaluator will also have more time to consider the case than a court judge. 

Look after yourself 

There’s no getting away from the fact that divorcing a narcissist is hard. It can be a total nightmare. At no point in your life more than this will you need a good support network around you.

So, please, if you do nothing else, join The Absolute Academy. It’s a group of women all navigating divorce. Not all of them are in high conflict situations, but plenty are. Everyone will have your back. You’ll have me on hand each week to answer questions. You’ll have resources and training to turn to whenever you need.

Honestly, you do not have to do this alone. You need to stay healthy – mentally as well as physically. And that means surrounding yourself with people who will help you make the right decisions for you.

Join us today. 

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of  The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com


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