Family Court System

Divorcing a Narcissist: The Family Court Standard

I was talking to one of my friend’s last night about her case.  Our stories are incredibly similar and we just so happen to be in the same county- and in the same courtroom.  We came together last year as a result of my blog.  Our x’s share many characteristics and our daughters are the same age- and experiencing the same things.  It’s almost uncanny.

She was able to eloquently express what she deems as a primary issue in our local courts and probably in many across the country: the courts have a threshold of what they deem as “acceptable” but as a mother, as a father, as parents and as a society– our thresholds should be much higher.  I share her frustration.  I sit in court and I watch people who are accused of selling drugs in front of their children.  I hear allegations of physical and sexual abuse.  I have witnessed parents who have disappeared from their child’s life for five years and suddenly reappear and want to pick up right where they left off.  I watch dead-beat parents of both genders as I sit in that courtroom.  As I wait for our case to be called, I usually have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I know that compared to what has been addressed before us- the Narcissist appears to be a welcomed relief in many ways.

Much like a doctor becomes accustomed to the cycle of life, our courts have become accustomed to abuse, neglect and abandonment.  In recent paperwork submitted to the court, minor’s counsel suggested something along the lines of, “I am beginning to wonder if the mother overreacts to the father’s parenting style“.  Those weren’t the exact words (and I don’t have the paperwork with me) but that is what he was eluding to.  If you consider emotional abuse a “parenting style” than I am guilty.  If you consider leaving a child unattended in a car for 30-45 minutes while you watched sports on television a “parenting style“- than I am guilty.  If you consider leaving two children who can’t swim alone in a pool without life jackets on a “parenting style“- than I am guilty.  If you consider telling a 4-year old child that you are going to lock her in a dark parking structure and make her sleep there because she is crying a “parenting style“- than I am guilty.  If you believe in bullying and scaring children a “parenting style” than I am guilty.

I think that this issue starts in the courtroom and trickles down to everyone who has a hand in the court system–including the very people (parenting evaluators, GAL’s, Child Welfare Services, etc) who are supposed to protect our children.  As a society, we should demand a higher threshold when it comes to our children.  It sadly comes back to parental rights and the fact that parental rights seem to supersede the right of a child to be healthy, happy and loved.

Something needs to change…


One Mom’s Battle: Our mission at One Mom’s Battle is to increase awareness of Cluster B personality disorders (Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder) and their impact upon shared parenting and the Family Court System which includes Judges, CPS workers, Guardian ad Litems (GAL), Parenting Coordinators (PC), Custody Evaluators, therapists and attorneys. Education on Cluster B disorders will allow these professionals to truly act in the best interest of the children.

History of One Mom’s Battle: In 2009, One Mom’s Battle began with one mother, (Tina Swithin), navigating the choppy waters of a high-conflict divorce in the Family Court System. Since then, it has turned into a grassroots movement reaching the far corners of the Earth. Tina’s battle spanned from 2009 – 2014 during which time she acted as her own attorney. Ultimately, Tina was successful in protecting her daughters and her family has enjoyed complete peace since October 2014 when a Family Court commissioner called her ex-husband a “sociopath” and revoked his parenting time in a final custody order.

Tina Swithin: Divorcing a narcissist? Tina Swithin’s books are available online at Amazon (print, Kindle or audio format). Each year, Tina offers life-changing weekends of camaraderie and healing at the Lemonade Power Retreat.  Tina also offers one-on-one coaching services and a private, secure forum called, The Lemonade Club, for those enduring high-conflict custody battles.



12 thoughts on “Divorcing a Narcissist: The Family Court Standard

  1. I couldn’t agree more! After ten (plus) years in this horrible system, my daughter and I have heard some of the most outrageous statements from the professionals charged with enforcing her best interests are met. Being that my ex continues to focus his vitriol (predominantly) at me, we thought it would be appropriate to request the court appoint a GAL to represent my daughter. Our thinking was that it would take the wind out of the sail of the argument, that our case is about my issues with him, rather than our child’s best interests. The court denied our request, instead, appointing a random Minor’s Counsel (next on the county list). When I raised concerns about our twelve year old daughter being left alone in Lahaina, Maui (a place she had never been), while she had no idea where her father was, Minor’s Counsel informed me that “unless she comes back, bloody, with broken bones, or dead, the court will see his parenting as good enough.”. That doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story, but I do think it makes your point. Really? Bloody, broken, or dead, is the standard?

  2. Excellent post!

    I get so tired of hearing if he is not sexual abusing or burning them with cigarettes then there is not much we can do…my response to that is

    Dear Judges, Parenting evaluators, GAL’s, Child Welfare Services, etc….if my ex’s parenting style is “good enough” then lets send your child(ren) for a ‘visit’ and see how they fare under his care.

    At an extreme moment of frustration I did suggest the GAL send his precious daughter to my ex’s for a weekend…not my finest moment. Most of these people charges with protecting the best interest of the child more than likely have children themselves, would THEY really tolerate the emotional abuse if it were being inflicted on their offspring? I would think not, so why do they find it so hard to protect EVERY child?

  3. ugh, mine locked one of the kids outside in the dark garage (he was already afraid of the dark AND of not being able to get to someone safe–won’t, even to this day at age 11, go to the bathroom with the door completely closed) and told him that he would make him sleep out there because he wouldn’t stop crying about something while in the time-out corner. My 4 kids wrote things about me at school for various projects (mother’s day gifts, writing projects “about my family”, etc.) and each one of them had commented “my mom makes me feel safe.” Not once did ANY of them say that about their dad.

    I have been told that the courts generally don’t take much of parents’ views of the ex into consideration, because they EXPECT them to come in and say horrible, ugly things about them. I understand it must be hard to sort out who is lying or even exaggerating, but I don’t think it is reasonable to throw all of that out. I know they’re busy and overloaded, but they are the ones who have the ABILITY to make a difference in the welfare of the children. They write the orders that either protect the child or allow them to be exposed to harm. It is all so frustrating.

    May you have continued strength in your uphill battle.

  4. Oh my gosh, how this hit home! My x is not a narcissist in terms of an actual disorder that is as sick as the things I’ve heard some people deal with (including you) but he has narcissistic behavior. You know, the kind that are raised to believe the whole world revolves around them and they take no ownership of their choices. I am frustrated beyond belief because my three children are emotionally and verbally abused by his wife whenever they are in their care. My constant question is “where was your father when this happened?” I am told he stands up for his wife. I dealt with 6 weeks of constant phone calls from my distraught children this summer at what they were being forced to deal with. I understand that the courts see a heinous level of neglect and abuse and that “while what is happening isn’t ok, they haven’t done anything bad enough for the courts to get involved.” So basically I am left with “sure, your children are being abused…but there are so many worse cases out there so this doesn’t matter.” I am so tired of being told that my children don’t matter because they haven’t been beaten. Good parenting and the welfare of our children (not just physically but emotionally as well) should come before a parents rights. I salute you, Tina. For not allowing this man to control you and for never giving up when it comes to your children. They are worth fighting for and it is so encouraging for me to see other people out there standing up for their children. Thank you!
    P.S. I have a close friend who’s x truly is a narcissist like your’s. It is so hard for others looking in to see how disturbing their behavior truly is. When I first met this women and read some of the emails he would send, I would think “What’s the big deal? Are you sure you’re not overreacting?” It’s takes time, wisdom and insight to see these people for what they are. I took great joy in telling this man (on the one occassion I had to speak with him in an emergency situation) that his manipulation, control and scare tactics would not work on me. That I was very aware of what the courts have ordered in their situation and that if he would like the information I had called to talk him, I would be more than happy to tell him but that if he continued to try to manipulate me into giving him more than he was legally entitled to, I would have no problem hanging up on him. Yeah, I kinda had a satisfying smile on my face. A lot harder to do when you’re dealing with that day in and day out…

  5. I listened to a court-appointed “child psychologist” dismiss my X’s neglect and her allowing my daughter to post nude pictures of herself on the Internet by calling it a “laissez-faire parenting style.” He submitted court documents to that effect, and my efforts to rescue my daughter went down the toilet. He said she’d “eventually be ok.” She’s now a high school dropout at age eighteen and living with druggies in LA. She is not OK. The court system created this life for her by giving her mother license to wreck her life as a parental right.

  6. Great article and it hit home. I too have a narcissist for an ex-husband. He feels he is entitled, above the law, above any rational thought, and should be allowed to do what he wants with regard to the kids. Thankfully, I’ve had 5 psychologists, a judge, and independent counsel all see that the anger issues, violent outbursts, and physical abuse are not a “parenting style” and ordered anger management and therapeutic supervised visitation. The most shocking piece? My x will still tell you that our current family situation is a result of my undermining his strict discipline style. The older two children refuse to see him and he blames it all on me. Our younger ones have worked through the supervised visits and now him on alternating weekends, but they still call me during visits to say ‘dad is yelling’ or ‘dad is scaring me.’ But with the help of an enabling attorney…I get the same response from opposing counsel: they aren’t being beaten and they shouldn’t feel they can call me every time my x disciplines them so I will “save” them. It is shocking that outside of the courts, money is being spent to raise awareness about child abuse…especially emotional/covert abuse and bullying. However, the system still sees a black eye ranking above an emotionally abused child.

  7. Dear Tina,Thank you for raising awareness about how having an ex who is a narcissist can make post-divorce adjustment a tremendous challenge. I struggled through unfortunate court proceedings where my ex came out smelling like a rose and ended up financially better off than me because he could afford the best legal representation. At the time of my divorce, I was in graduate school and working part-time time. Because of this, the judge determined that my ex who had a fantastic income should be able to keep the house and that our children could spend more than half of their time with him. I was devastated by this decision and asked my mother for financial help. As a result of going back to court, I was awarded joint legal and physical custody but my ex still ended up with our home and more assets. You see, my ex is very smooth and so was his lawyer. This happened over a decade ago and I’m proud to say that my children have seen the light and we are extremely close. After finishing graduate school and working hard, I was able to purchase a small home and regained my dignity. Several years after my divorce, I met a wonderful middle aged man who is a therapist and was happy to take on my two children and a new wife with much baggage. Two years later, our daughter was born and we have moved on with our lives. However, reading your article reminded me of the time in my life when I was made to feel “less than” and never good enough by my ex and the court system. My Best, Terry

  8. Terry-

    I LOVE hearing stories like yours- where there was a light at the end of the tunnel and you were able to see it, grab it and use it to light your path for the future. Thank you for sharing- Tina

  9. AMEN!!! Our court appointed mediator made it very clear how LUCKY I was not to be dealing with an addict or abusive man (she dismissed my photo proof of abuse) and even wrote in her notes that she believed that I was trying to trump up charges on him (again wouldn’t look at the written and texted proof of my ex threatening suicide). It made me sick to my stomach and EVERY single interaction I’ve had with the court system has left me with the same feeling. Watching the other cases and feeling the looks of judgement from the court system of ‘how dare you complain when you have an upright citizen who serves our country and is demanding more time with his children’ and they only see the image he is trying to portray. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that at any time I could lose everything I’ve fought so hard for to protect my children at the whim of a 3rd party who neither knows or has loved/raised my children and buys into the act my ex plays oh so well.

    It is a frustrating system and there is no ‘winning’ because at the end of it children are paying the price no matter how we go about it. I think that is what the courts dont see about those of us dealing with N ex’es. We see better than anyone else how badly our children lose either way. Either they are stuck unsupervised and damaged by N’s who use them or they are without their other parent who they love and do want in their lives regardless of how unhealthy they are. Hearing my children sob and ask why they can’t have a daddy like the other daddies is a feeling I cannot even equate into words. But the courts dont see that, instead they only have 2 stereotypes of ex’es = the bitter, revengeful ex who is using the courts to hurt the spouse or the ex who goes along with it all and does as the court deems fit. There is no place for those of us genuinely concerned for the well being of our children’s MENTAL health. IF he beat our children or did drugs, he’d lose it all. But why is my children getting beaten emotionally at the hand’s of their father not taken seriously? Truly a no win situation.

  10. This is exactly my frustration! It is my experience that psychological harm is not taken seriously, and it absolutely should be! My ex bullies and puts our daughter in the middle, the PC knows of this (directly from our daughter) and nothing happens… Oh wait, it does – he gets more time. Against our daughter’s wishes, and despite having ample time already. All by playing the role of a super involved father (never mind neglecting our daughter’s severe allergic reaction for two days which blew my mind and once and for all answered the question of whether he truly cared about her well-being, upsetting our daughter on purpose just before return times, making her give him foot rubs, the yelling and the put downs, to name just a few problems).

    I can’t tell if the standards are low, if mothers are held to a higher standard (on average), if the courts just don’t care unless there is physical abuse. But I know this – the family courts need to do more to protect “the child’s best interest.”

    My second gripe is joint legal custody – why grant it as a default in high conflict cases where it’s just not workable.

  11. I feel like that’s a big problem, the idea that parents are seen as being overprotective, or being nitpicky or overreactive, when the reality is that we have YEARS of understanding what these behaviors are really all about. For example, Tina’s ex taking his daughters phone, taunting and bullying her. We are afraid for our kids because we’ve seen simple situations spiral out of control and the drop of a hat. I lived for years physically being between my kids and their father because he hit them. (Spanking and leaving handprint bruises on a two year old – and I was the one overreacting about it.)So our ‘overreacting at the other parents parenting style’ is actually completely valid simply because because of what we’ve SEEN happen in the past.
    Our worst fear is them coming home bloody, broken or dead…or not coming home at all…Most people would want to do all they could to prevent that from even happening, rather than dealing with the fall out after the fact. How sad our system is.

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