Family Court is set up to be adversarial. It pits one parent against another. This unfortunately feeds into the narcissist’s ego defence which is to win at all costs. They do this by masterfully playing the role of either hero or victim (often both at the same time). They will claim you are alienating them or abusing them. They will even manipulate the children to confirm their story thus proving their prowess.
I have worked with hundreds of parents who have sought support and protection for them and their children from Family Court only to be disappointed and disillusioned to see that the court is easily duped by the narcissist and given more time with the children. In many cases the narcissist manages to use Family Court to cut the other parent completely out of the child’s life.
How can this happen?
One would think that those highly experienced in law (solicitors and judges) would have what it takes to easily recognise deception, or at least know how to ensure that a person is examined thoroughly enough to make reasonably sure that they are telling the truth. But those in law are just as vulnerable to the highly skilled narcissist as the average person is.
Narcissists love the court arena because they get to take centre stage and express their grandiosity. It feeds their ego and they seek to control the process. Some will do this by not turning up, issuing last minute changes to mean you have little or no time to prepare. Others will keep breaching the order so you have to take them back to court. They will all threaten court repeatedly as a way to control you and get their own way – “if that’s what you want, then we had best go back to court”. The fact they get to financially ruin in the process is the cherry on the cake for them.
Because narcissist’s are naturally talented imposters, charmers, and deceivers, many judges get duped on a routine basis by narcissistic parents, who are simply using the court and the judge to continue to humiliate, exert control, and abuse their ex, and force their ex to react to them in some way. Narcissists live to manipulate and control others emotions, self-esteem, and behaviours. Many will describe the ‘high’ they get from manipulating others successfully, and if they get the judge to believe them, they will begin to brag that the judge is their ‘ personal friend’.
How Can They Get Away With It
Narcissist’s get away with what they get away with because they are so very talented at presenting themselves as innocent victims of their ex, their boss, their parents, etc. etc. They have an uncanny talent to manipulate situations and people and to twist the obvious facts to fit their lies. You know in your own relationship how they managed to convince you that they were worth falling in love with. This is their own personal superpower – manipulating others.
Part of the problem is that in the context of family court, no one really believes that a parent (especially ones who presents so well) can be so cold, calculating and abusive to use their own children to hurt their ex in such extreme ways. Nor do they believe that children would lie about such matters as being abused. I always found this very strange because, having worked in child protection, we know that child abusers ARE highly manipulative and deceptive AND that children will lie to protect the abuser.
Narcissists have survived by understanding people and how they tick. They know exactly how to get others to do their bidding and convince them it is all of their own doing. Charles Manson is a prime example of how charming and manipulative a narcissist can be at getting people to do the unthinkable. The problem in Family Court is that no judge (or professional) will ever want to admit they have been manipulated like that. It hurts their ego as well and so very often, they will continue on the path the narcissist has led them down to save their own ego. People are inherently selfish and so even those charged with protecting children rarely act from a completely unbiased and empathic place. It’s human nature. We all want to be seen to do the right thing and not be criticised. Narcissists use this to control others.
How can court recognise a narcissist
Firstly I would always advise against labelling your ex as a narcissist (unless they have an official clinical diagnosis). You are not a psychologist or psychiatrist and so you cannot diagnose them. To do so undermines you. There are ways however that you can alert the court and professionals to the behaviours which are problematic:
- Narcissists will continuously be going back and forth to court sometimes with issues which barely make sense or are fully nonsense or are taken back to court for repeatedly breaching the order
- They will be constantly changing legal representation
- They may attempt to act as an equal or friend to professionals
- They can be very demanding about the treatment they receive when attending court
- They present as being very agreeable but breach the order within days (sometimes hours) of leaving court
- They will refuse to take any responsibility for anything
- There will be multiple, unsubstantiated claims of abuse/harassment against the ex
- There may be a pattern of behaviours in past relationships
- There is inconsistency in what they say and how they behave
- There may be multiple allegations of abuse against the ex but with NFA’s from the police
- The children display very black and white thinking against the other parent (one is all good, the other all bad)
- The narcissist has cut contact with everyone involved with the ex including all the children’s aunts and uncles
How to make judges take notice
The reality is that within the court arena it is very hard for judges to decipher everything. They are reliant upon other professionals, usually social workers, to provide them with reports and recommendations. It is therefore important that, as a parent going through this process, you remain child focused and allow the narcissist’s behaviour to reveal itself.
- The court can order both parents into counselling towards the goal of effective co-parenting. Once a custody order is made, the court can monitor the compliance of both parents. This is often when the narcissist begins to show their true colours. They just cannot comply with any authority other than their own self-inflated opinions and will. In most cases, if they comply at all with the counselling (many do not even make it to one session), it only takes a short time before they will discredit the counsellor, petition the court for some other counsellor, and just stop showing up. What they really want is a counsellor that cannot ‘see through them’ and find one that they can manipulate for their own purposes, meaning supporting their position that their ex is persecuting them.
- Another option is for the family to undergo a psychological evaluation. Usually this will entail the psychologist spending time with each parent individually, the children separately if possible and the children with each parent. They will then evaluate the dynamics and make recommendations to the court about next steps. It really helps if the psychologist can include a thorough description of the IMPACT and capacity for change of the parents within these situations. Unfortunately I have seen time and time again where psychological evaluations identify the issues but fail to inform the court what this means. Again, judges are not mental health or child development professionals. They need guidance on what this means for the children moving forward and the impact of any action taken.
- As the other parent, you can contribute to this process by not biting when the narcissist tries to bait you. They will deliberately push your buttons in public to get a reaction out of you which they will then use as “evidence” of all the allegations they are making about you. It is therefore important that you prepare fully for court both in terms of how you feel on the day but also dealing with your own trauma from the relationship. We have specifically designed our Get Court Ready programme to help you with this. It provides you with tools, insights and activities to rewrite the narcissists narrative, manage your own emotions and protect the children. Find out more at the Get Court Ready page on our website.
Finally, it would greatly benefit all professionals involved in child protection (solicitors, judges, social workers, court workers) to undergo basic training on personality disorders, domestic abuse and parental alienation. This will at least provide them with an additional theory to examine the evidence against. I personally have developed numerous courses on these areas which are CPD accredited and available online. Head to my other website, Child Protection Centre, for more details.
What are your experiences of Family Court? What more do you think can be done?