How to Divorce a Narcissist in Five Steps

How to Divorce a Narcissist in Five Steps

You can’t count on much from a narcissist except for perhaps this: Dealing with them will not be easy. Try to divorce one? You’re going to be in for a wild ride. So buckle up because today you are going to learn how to divorce a narcissist while protecting yourself from their abuse, anger, and manipulation. 

1. Interview family law attorneys. 

If you have been married to a narcissist, you probably have an idea of what you will be up against when you tell them you want a divorce. That said, you may not be sure how to begin the process in a way that will preserve your mental health and your interests. The good news is that an experienced Washington state family lawyer does.

Without letting your spouse know, speak to at least three family law attorneys so you understand what you need to be doing in the present to prepare for divorcing a narcissist. Having a family law attorney on speed dial will be helpful when the time comes to announce to your spouse you are leaving them. Narcissists don’t typically take such news well. 

Choosing a family law attorney doesn’t have to be complicated. However, you do need to look for someone who will prioritize positive co-parenting (if you have children) and who won’t behave in an adversarial manner because conflict is a narcissist’s middle name. They thrive on it, and you don’t want to feed them their favorite meal.

2. Gather as much information as you can. 

Again, without letting your spouse know, start gathering any information you can that will support you in your divorce. Here are some key documents to be on the lookout for:

Financial Documents

These items fall under the category of documents you would be more likely to consider “top of mind” when preparing for divorce, though some can get lost in the shuffle. Here’s a quick list:

  • Income tax returns for the past five years
  • Social security statements
  • Financial records (i.e., bank statements and loan information)
  • Debt records, liens, bankruptcy, and foreclosure information
  • Credit card accounts
  • Investment account statements
  • Pension plan information
  • Retirement savings accounts
  • Employment records and paystubs


Estate Planning Documents

Is there currently money or assets held in trust for you? For your children? Your lawyer will need to know. Be sure to include the following:

  • Wills and trust agreements
  • Advanced healthcare directives
  • Powers of attorney


Asset-Related Documents

What assets did you bring into your marriage? What assets did you acquire during the marriage? Include information about:

  • The marital home, including the deed, mortgage(s), and HELOCs (home equity lines of credit)
  • Additional real estate interests
  • Vehicles owned, including cars, boats, and farm equipment
  • Personal property (i.e., jewelry, art, collectibles, and antiques)
  • Stock certificates and Bitcoin


Personal Documents

It is convenient to have detailed information about yourself and your spouse at the ready as you embark on the process of getting a divorce. This can include: 

  • The date of your marriage
  • Information about previous marriages, including divorce decrees
  • Social security numbers for you and your spouse
  • Birthdates for you and your spouse
  • Pleadings and judgments against you or your spouse
  • Life insurance policies (personal and those from work)
  • Internet history, emails, and texts


Childcare Documents

If you have children, it is of the utmost importance that you protect them and their interests as you get divorced. Be on the lookout for the following documents:

  • Children’s bank accounts (including 529 plans)
  • Report cards and school records
  • College savings plans
  • Children’s birth certificates
  • Social security numbers
  • Passports

As you work through the divorce document-compiling stage, also think about how you hope to settle childcare issues. Here are a few points to think about:

  • How do I want child custody handled?
  • Who will be the parent to claim the child(ren) as dependents for tax purposes, and during which years?
  • How will college expenses be allocated?


Other Divorce-Related Information

As you prepare for divorce, consider specific factors that led you to want a divorce. For instance, if your spouse was cheating, it may be in your best interest to compile evidence concerning their infidelity. 

Though Washington state is a no-fault divorce state, financial information related to the affair, such as whether there was asset depletion to help finance the affair, could be relevant. 

Or, if you are divorcing to escape an abusive situation (whether it be emotional or physical), take some time to document any evidence of domestic violence. It could likewise be relevant in court or mediation down the line or help you during the equitable distribution phase of your divorce.

3. Build a strong support system. 

A narcissist often behaves like a bully. When divorcing a narcissist, they may do everything in their power to isolate you so that you are most vulnerable. They may even go so far as to malign you publicly to others. 

In anticipation of the anger they may unleash on you when you tell them you want a divorce, take this time to build or reinforce your existing support system. As you confide in others your plans to leave your spouse, make certain they understand that discretion must remain a priority. Until you are ready, you do not want to alert your spouse of your plans.

As part of your support system, be sure to include a mental health professional (therapist and or psychiatrist) to help you manage your own stress and emotions. You won’t be able to control your spouse’s, but you can control your own. 

4. Keep a record of all ongoing communication. 

Now is the time to brush up on your record-keeping skills because you will need to document any and all interactions with your spouse. Narcissists are experts at shape-shifting and making lies appear as the truth. Without a record, preferably in writing, it will be that much more difficult to reconstruct past conversations and events. 

In addition to email and text, there are specific divorce and co-parenting apps through which you can communicate. This is especially true if you are a co-parent. Child custody (called residential time in Washington state) often becomes a hot-button issue in divorces with narcissists, so you want to be prepared. Speaking of prepared …

5. Prepare for the worst behavior to come from your spouse.

Angering a narcissist (or someone displaying narcissistic tendencies), including by telling them you want a divorce, will often result in an exaggeration of their typical behavior. According to the Cleveland Clinic, narcissists tend to display the following nine behaviors:   

  • Fantasies of deserving or possessing greatness.
  • An excessive need for admiration.
  • A sense of entitlement.
  • Exploitative tendencies.
  • A lack of empathy.
  • Frequent envy.
  • An arrogant demeanor.
  • A grandiose sense of self-importance.
  • A self-superiority mindset.

Now, to be clear, it is likely your spouse was never diagnosed as a narcissist. After all, it is not often that a narcissist seeks care from a mental health professional for their issues. Instead, they usually ascribe to a philosophy that everyone else is the problem. 

That said, diagnosis or not, you must learn to deal with your spouse, who is displaying narcissistic characteristics. Here are a few strategies for doing so:

Do not engage in name-calling.

Refrain from calling your spouse any names, including a “narcissist,” even though they call you everything under the sun. The idea is not to escalate conflict.   

Set boundaries and stick to them. 

If your boundary is to only interact with your spouse between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., then don’t look at any correspondence from them if it doesn’t fall between those hours. If you want to only communicate in writing, do so. First and foremost, your boundaries are there to protect you. Treat them that way. 

Learn all you can about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Even if your spouse was never officially diagnosed as a narcissist, the characteristic behavior is well-documented. There are endless resources about NPD, and since knowledge is power, it will help you to learn everything you can about individuals displaying these behaviors. Not knowing about an issue, one you will have to confront for the foreseeable future, can cause unnecessary stress. So, do your homework. 

Find a Seattle family law attorney. 

Divorcing someone displaying narcissistic characteristics can lead to a high-conflict divorce, especially if you aren’t educated on how to manage controversy with your soon-to-be ex. If you suspect you are divorcing a narcissist, it can help to have a team of family law attorneys on your side who have experience managing divorces from narcissists.

At Elise Buie Family Law, our team of empathetic Washington  state divorce lawyers understands how stressful dealing with a narcissistic spouse can be. Consequently, we ascribe to protecting our clients in the present while preparing them for a bright new future, one they can begin envisioning now. Call our Seattle office today.  



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