When a couple with minor children divorces, a child custody order is part of their divorce settlement or decree. In most cases, the custody terms grant him time with both parents because it's beneficial for the child to have recurring contact with both of his parents in most cases.
But this isn't always the case. The court might deem limited contact with a parent to be in the child’s best interest when that parent suffers from a mental or personality disorder like narcissism or bipolar disorder,
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition listed in the American Psychiatric Association's "DSM-5," the classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals.
Narcissism, like depression, is a clinically diagnosed condition that's often misunderstood and referred to incorrectly. You might hear people say things like “he’s such a narcissist,” or “stop being so narcissistic,” but the truth is that only about 6.2 percent of the world’s adult population are living with actual narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissism manifests in the following ways:
- A sense of entitlement
- Disregard for others’ feelings
- Extreme lack of empathy
- A need for admiration
- Inability to handle criticism
Your Child’s Best Interest
Every state has its own criteria for determining appropriate child custody orders, but they all hinge on the same principle: the child’s best interest. When the court issues a child custody order, it does its best to put the child into the environment that best serves all her needs, including her physical, mental, emotional, academic and medical needs.
Spending a substantial amount of time with a narcissistic parent is not in a child’s best interest. But the court doesn't automatically know whether a parent is a narcissist or suffers from any other personality disorder, so it's up to the other parent to show the court the realities his child faces with valid evidence. This evidence can include:
- Transcripts of your child’s sessions with a counselor
- Documentation of your former partner’s diagnosed condition
- Documentation of abuse you suffered at the hands of your former partner
- Evidence showing the results of your former partner’s narcissistic tendencies, such as documentation from your divorce
- Your child's testimony if he's old enough to articulate his thoughts about your former partner
- Testimonies from other adults who have worked with your child, like her pediatrician and teacher
Work With a Mental Health Professional
Regardless of whether your former partner or spouse has actually been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, his personality traits and actions can have an adverse on your child’s health. Although this primarily means your child’s mental health, a narcissistic parent can be harmful to a child’s physical health as well when the narcissism drives the parent to ignore the child’s illness symptoms or to demand that the child conform to certain physical ideals.
Have your child work with a mental healthcare provider to ensure that she receives the support she needs and that you have the documentation you need to support your position in family court.
Advocating for Your Child
As your child’s parent, it's your job to advocate for her. One effective way to do this is to gather the kind of evidence listed above and present it in a coherent manner to show the court the truth about your former partner and his relationship with your child. It's your job to understand the family court process and to provide the documentation necessary to help the court create a custody arrangement that suits your child’s needs. Hiring a lawyer can be helpful with these processes.
Child custody isn't an all-or-nothing issue. After reviewing the evidence you provide, the court might determine that limited or supervised visitation with the narcissistic parent is in your child’s best interest. This could mean prohibiting overnight visits with the parent or requiring that a third party, such as a grandparent or another trusted adult, supervise their contact together.
The court might also choose to appoint a guardian ad litem to determine your child’s best interest. A guardian ad litem is a professional who gathers crucial information about a child’s life and presents it to the court in an unbiased manner. She might gather this information by visiting your home, interviewing you, and by asking about your job, your relationships and your own mental health. Cooperate with the guardian ad litem to help her help your child.