Even without children, divorcing a narcissistic husband or wife is anything but simple, amicable, and low-stress.
Add children, and the narcissist has another powerful weapon at their disposal.
And you can count on them to make the divorce and its aftermath as painful as possible—for you.
So, what can you do to protect yourself (and any children you have) and get the best possible outcome?
How to Divorce a Narcissist
As veterans of this nightmare can tell you, the only thing harder than being married to a narcissist is divorcing one.
The narcissist will do everything in their power to win. And part of that win is making sure you deeply and eternally regret divorcing them.
That said, before we dive into a more detailed list of actions to take, let’s outline the primary strategies for divorcing a narcissist:
- Gather your posse (i.e., your support network)
- Get a divorce lawyer —because mediation and narcissists don’t mix;
- Get clear on what you want and what it will cost you to go after it;
- Save and document everything (receipts, recorded conversations, etc.);
- Give yourself something to look forward to that’s well worth the fight.
Make a detailed plan for navigating all the stages of divorcing a narcissist. The list further down will be one of your best resources for this. Your lawyer will be another.
Take advantage of all the help you can find. You can bet the narcissist will do the same.
What to Expect When Divorcing a Narcissistic Spouse
Diagnosed or not, if your spouse’s behavior reveals them to be a narcissist, you can count on the following behaviors to occur when you draw the line and file for divorce. Expect the narcissist to
- Blame you—for everything;
- Use your children (if you have them) against you;
- Try to poison your family and friends against you;
- Do their utmost to leave you with nothing;
- Game the system (as much as possible);
- Keep up the torment even after the divorce is final;
- Lie about you and present those lies as facts.
In other words, expect an emotionally (and financially) draining battle the narcissist intends to win—100% at your expense. And they’ll make it as expensive as possible.
After all, if you have the nerve to divorce them when they’re content to stay married and drain the life out of you more slowly, they’ll justify everything they do to punish you for it.
Divorcing a Narcissist: 11 Things You Need to Do
Now that you have some idea of what to expect (and you know this particular narcissist better than we do), look through the following tips for not only surviving this divorce—in every way that matters—but to come out of it stronger and better off than before.
By now, you realize that outcome is not guaranteed. We’d like to help make it more likely.
1. Decide on a timeline for your divorce.
Once you’ve decided to take this step, think about the logistics involved. If getting out of your spouse’s reach is an urgent necessity, your timeline will reflect that.
If you’d rather wait until the end of the year for tax purposes (especially if you’re the one who files for the both of you), make your plans accordingly. You know your circumstances better than we do.
Whatever you do, make sure you can do it safely. And don’t plan on doing this alone.
2. Find a divorce lawyer who has experience with narcissistic spouses.
The right lawyer knows exactly how malignant narcissists can get when their spouses divorce them. They know the tricks. Even better if they can anticipate what the narcissist will try next so they can do everything necessary to protect you and your kids.
Experience dealing with narcissists in the courtroom is a priceless advantage. Make it a priority when you’re shopping for the right lawyer.
A good divorce lawyer will cost more in the short term, but they’ll know how to get you the best possible result. They can also help you protect yourself after the divorce is final.
Because, with a narcissistic ex, it isn’t over until they say it’s over.
3. Build a support network—and keep them in the loop.
Enlist the help of people you know you can trust to have your back and help you through this process.
Even if some on your spouse’s side of the family express support for your decision to end the marriage, avoid putting them in a position where they have to choose between you and their grown child or sibling.
Taking sides isn’t really the way you want to play this, anyway. But you can count on your narcissistic spouse to turn this into an all-out war.
And they’ll make sure anyone supporting you suffers for it.
4. Create (and refine) your escape plan.
Before filing for divorce, make sure you have a safe place to go, especially if you have young children to protect from your toxic spouse. Look at your options and what you can afford. See if anyone in your support network can help you with this.
Start with whatever you can think of, and then start taking action to learn more, so you can make any necessary revisions before you get the divorce ball rolling.
5. Document every interaction with your narcissistic spouse.
If possible, stick to writing as your means of communication, and save every message the narcissist sends you. Keep a log of every documentable attempt they make to punish you for wanting a divorce.
In every documentable exchange, make a note of any witnesses—especially anyone who overheard a conversation or witnessed any example of your spouse’s toxic behavior.
If you have children, do everything possible to protect them from being used as witnesses against either one of their parents.
6. Be honest about anything your spouse can use against you.
The narcissist won’t want to make this any easier for you. And you’re not the only one with incriminating stories you can use against them in court. Even if yours all happen to be true, there’s no guarantee they’ll be enough to win the case for you.
Leave aside, for the moment, that your narcissistic spouse won’t have any difficulty making up stories to brutalize your reputation. Think about anything real in your past that they could dredge up and use against you, even without embellishment.
Make a detailed list now before you file the paperwork. And make a copy for your lawyer.
7. Log the time each of you spends with your children.
This will serve as valuable information for your lawyer. The narcissist is likely to brag about the time they spend with your kids and what they do for them—and compare their parental investment with yours.
Keeping a careful log of the hours each of you spends with your kids will provide information your lawyer can use to refute any claims your spouse makes to justify their pursuit of full custody.
Along with the time log, save receipts and any pictures taken and shared.
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8. Build your case for primary custody of your children.
Unlike your narcissist spouse, you’ll be doing this to protect your children—not so you can use them against your spouse.
Custody is a weapon your narcissistic spouse can and will use to punish you. If they see your children hurting because of the divorce, it’s another thing they can blame on you.
Give your lawyer all the information they need to push for full custody. And fully disclose anything your spouse could use against you as a parent (even the stuff you’d rather not share with anyone).
9. Create a list of credible character witnesses.
Make a list of character witnesses who can testify to your spouse’s abusive behavior toward you. If they’ve witnessed any arguments that display your spouse’s true character, your lawyer can use that to your benefit.
Anyone who’s had a close-up view of your spouse’s reactions or overheard revealing conversations can provide insights your lawyer may find useful in your defense.
Make sure your lawyer also knows anything your spouse might use to discredit them.
10. Identify any witnesses your spouse might call.
Give your lawyer a heads-up list of witnesses your narcissistic spouse might call to testify against you in court.
Never assume the biased testimony of relatives and friends won’t matter. The narcissist is comfortable telling lies—about you or any witnesses speaking on your behalf—to tarnish your reputation and gain sympathy for themselves.
Think about the people in the narcissist’s social circle who might be willing to believe their lies and testify on their behalf. Include those who might prefer to avoid taking sides but who, if it comes down to it, will always choose your spouse.
11. Prepare yourself for a lengthy and expensive divorce.
At the very least, don’t be surprised if the narcissist does everything in their power to hurt you and leave you bleeding. Because how dare you reject them when they can do no wrong and no one will put up with you the way they have.
If all this has you wondering, “Will a narcissist file for divorce?” remember that, for them, everything is your fault—regardless of who’s divorcing whom.
You’re actually better off if you initiate the process. Because if they’re the one filing, you can count on their having prepared for a divorce that is 100% in their favor. If they drop the D-word on you, assume they’ve laid the groundwork.
Or better yet, beat them to it. But make sure you can do so without putting your safety at risk. Whatever you need to do, do it safely. And, if at all possible, don’t do it alone.
Now that you know the essential actions to take when divorcing a narcissist, which of the points made in this post stood out for you?
Aside from what you’re doing to get the best possible outcome for this divorce, we hope you’re also making time for self-care. Being kind to yourself and honoring your needs isn’t a luxury. Neither is being honest about what you want.
So, what will you do differently this week?