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Narcissism & Child Custody

Narcissistic behavior, characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, lack of empathy, and a pervasive pattern of manipulation, can wreak havoc in any domestic setting. However, when it comes to the realm of child-rearing, these traits can be particularly destructive.  

If you are involved in a custody case with a narcissist, you may be wondering whether their behavior can affect the case. In this post, we will explore the ways in which a narcissist may try to manipulate their child and the court, what narcissist abuse is, and the effect narcissistic behavior can have on custody determinations.  

Games Narcissists Play in Child Custody Cases 

In child custody cases, narcissists often employ several tactics to assert control and manipulate the situation to their advantage. Here are some of these tactics: 

  • Lying to the court. Narcissists may paint an inaccurate picture of themselves, the other parent, or the child to sway the court’s decision. They might exaggerate their involvement in the child’s life or downplay the other parent’s contribution. To protect against this tactic, keep a detailed record of interactions with the narcissist and the child. 
  • Manipulating evidence. Narcissistic parents might twist facts, take incidents out of context, or even fabricate evidence to support their claims. If you suspect this, consult with your attorney about how to counteract such manipulations. Always truthfully present your side of the story and provide concrete evidence where possible. 
  • Using the child as a pawn. Narcissists often use their children as tools to hurt or control the other parent. They might manipulate the child into siding with them or plant negative ideas about the other parent. Ensure you maintain open, honest communication with your child. Encourage them to express their feelings without fear of disappointing or angering you. 

Can a Parent Lose Custody for Being a Narcissist?  

A parent will not simply lose custody for being a narcissist in most cases. However, a parent’s behavior, including behaviors stemming from narcissism, can impact whether they get custody.  

The court will consider a variety of factors when determining what the best interest of the child is concerning custody. Some of the factors that a court will consider when deciding on custody include: 

  • A parent’s willingness to help their child foster a healthy relationship with their other parent. If a narcissistic parent is proven to have lied to the court about the other parent or seems unwilling to be civil with the other parent, the court will take that into consideration.  
  • The parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their child. Narcissistic parents may not have the emotional stability needed to provide a healthy environment for their children.   
  • The child’s preferences. It is important to note that children aged 14 and older can express their preferences concerning which parent they want to live with. If a parent emotionally or psychologically abused their child, they may not wish to live with that parent and can tell the court as much. The court will not make custody determinations solely based on the child’s preference but will factor preference into their decision. 
  • The parent’s mental and physical health. Narcissism is classified as a personality disorder, which could impact whether a court awards custody rights to that parent. However, a parent will have to have been formally diagnosed; the other party’s belief that their child’s other parent is a narcissist is not enough to speak to their mental health.  
  • The impact of the parent’s behavior on the child. If a narcissistic parent’s behavior is having a negative impact on the child, such as causing them to act out or perform poorly in school, it could sway the court’s decision.  

A parent can also lose custody if they make false allegations against the other party. As we mentioned, sometimes narcissists may falsify information during their cases. If they go as far as making fake abuse allegations, they risk losing custody. It is also important to note the other parent should also be careful when alleging the narcissistic parent is guilty of abuse or neglect.  

What Is Narcissistic Abuse?  

Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. It is perpetrated by individuals who display characteristics associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or who have a high level of narcissism.  

Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) desire excessive attention and admiration and struggle to form meaningful relationships and show empathy towards others. Narcissistic abuse encompasses manipulative actions, controlling behavior, belittlement, and gaslighting tactics. 

Narcissistic Abuse in Parenting 

When a narcissistic individual becomes a parent, the effects can be devastating and far-reaching for their children. A narcissistic parent sees their child not as a separate individual with their own needs and rights but as an extension of themselves. They may use their child to fulfill their own needs for validation, attention, or emotional release. 

Impact on Children’s Development 

Children of narcissistic parents often experience a range of negative impacts that can last into adulthood. These can include: 

  • Low self-esteem. Constant criticism and belittling can lead children to believe they are unworthy or inadequate. 
  • Trust issues. If a parent frequently lies or manipulates, children may struggle to trust others in the future. 
  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships. Children may either replicate the narcissistic behavior they learned from their parent or become a target for other narcissists due to their familiarity with this type of relationship. 
  • Mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common among those who have experienced narcissistic abuse. 

Examples of Narcissistic Parental Behaviors 

Examples of behaviors a narcissistic parent might engage in include: 

  • Manipulation. This can take many forms, such as guilt-tripping, making the child feel responsible for the parent’s emotions, or pitting siblings against each other. 
  • Emotional control. The parent may use fear, obligation, or guilt to control their child’s emotions and behavior. 
  • Gaslighting. This involves denying or distorting reality to confuse or disorient the child. 
  • Ignoring needs. The parent may neglect the child’s emotional or physical needs in favor of their own. 

Proving Narcissist Abuse in Family Court  

Legally, narcissistic abuse falls under the umbrella of emotional and psychological abuse, which are recognized forms of child maltreatment. In cases of suspected abuse, Child Protective Services (CPS) can be contacted, and they have the authority to conduct investigations.    

As we mentioned, in family court, judges consider the best interests of the child when making custody and visitation decisions. If narcissistic abuse can be proven, it may impact these decisions. However, proving emotional and psychological abuse can be challenging due to its often subtle and non-physical nature.  

Evidence that can help you prove narcissistic abuse may include:  

  • testimony from mental health professionals,  
  • records of interactions demonstrating abusive behavior, or  
  • statements from the child if they are of an appropriate age and maturity level.  

Discuss Your Case with Our Child Custody Attorneys  

At Fenchel Family Law PC, our attorneys provide our clients with aggressive counsel in child custody cases. Whether you believe the other party is a narcissist or are being accused of being a narcissist, we can help you collect evidence and build a case that helps you reach your custody goals.  

Call (415) 805-9069 to get started on your case today.