Borderline and Narcissistic Personalities in Divorce

Many family law cases are stressful and impact the health and well being of the parties. Cases involving borderline or narcissistic personalities, however, exact a more serious toll on the non-disordered partners and family members.

Michael Roe has written in the area of family law and personality disorders, and has been recognized as an expert in areas of personality disorders in divorce, parental alienation, and false accusations of abuse in the context of divorce and custody litigation.

Individuals with some personality disorders (BPs) can appear in public to be charming, competent, and friendly. This normal appearance is a facade. Within their family systems, the BP acts out…raging, threatening, manipulating… in an abnormal and harmful effort to control their partners and families. These acting out behaviors are very harmful to the marriage partners of the BP, and to the children of the marriage. Many BPs in a divorce:

  • make false accusations of domestic violence
  • make false accusations of sexual abuse against their partners
  • try to alienate the children from the healthy parent, thus depriving the children of a healthy, normal childhood (Parental Alienation).

People with toxic narcissistic personality disorders refuse to see a perspective other than his or her own unless that perspective matches what the narcissist believes is his or her own.

Narcissists Are Not Always High Conflict Personalities

Narcissists can certainly be high conflict personalities but they are not always that type. A narcissist can sometimes be passive-aggressive.

We have encountered narcissists in divorce cases who come across as relatively calm and stable individuals to the outside world but when you ask those who know them well, they will tell you the person is stubborn, inflexible and nearly impossible to have a collaboration with on any topic.

Sociopathic Personalities: A sociopath is a man or woman with an anti-social personality disorder, that has little to no regard for the rights of others and that lack of regard is typically without remorse.

Similar to a narcissist, a sociopath may come across stable, reasonable and sometimes play the victim role quite convincingly.

As opposed to a high conflict personality, a sociopath may not actually directly create conflict. Instead, their hallmark is their refusal to do the right thing even when the law requires it.

A sociopath does not care about the law or legal rights, but is not always high conflict:

This is seen most commonly in enforcement of support orders and parenting orders.

A sociopath will often state he or she does not care what the order states. The sociopath will simply refuse to abide by the court order for reasons that only make sense to the sociopath. Instead, they often simply act as if the order does not apply to them, as if it is not an order at all but simply a suggestion they can choose to ignore.

What Is a Restrictive Gatekeeper?

A gatekeeper may be facilitative, protective or restrictive.

Restrictive gatekeepers are not facilitating in their gatekeeping. They are not protective in their gatekeeping.

Unfortunately, their actions rise to the level of emotional abuse of the children. They can also engage in Parental Alienation.

Restrictive gatekeepers are obsessive and, on the extreme end, delusional

Our experience shows toxic gatekeepers have an obsessive personality whereby they conjure up scenarios in their head of how dangerous the other parent may be to the children.

The more obsessive and delusional they are, the more restrictive they become.

Some are fanatical in their belief system. They are “true believers” in their own delusions which is unsupported by any reasonable evidence or is founded on exaggerated, revisionist history.

Restrictive gatekeepers can be histrionic. Unfortunately, they often make false allegations of abuse and domestic violence.

Restrictive gatekeepers often play the victim role and are not always high conflict

Restricted gatekeepers play the victim role. They can be passive, emotional and sometimes quite convincing.

From the outside in, they come across at times as protective and loving parents who just want the best for their children but once you break the initial barrier and really understand what drives them, you quickly learn they house their beliefs on quicksand.

Can they be high conflict personalities? Sometimes and that in part depends on where they are in the divorce litigation cycle. Some start out very passive and first try to convince you they are the victim.

When their stories fall apart through proper litigation, they can become aggressive.

Some start out as aggressive and highly emotional. When their false allegations are deconstructed by good legal work, as our office provides, these toxic personalities will either up the ante, or possibly fold their positions, as the need to not be exposed or revealed takes priority over the distortion campaign.

Advice for Divorcing a High Conflict Personality

Divorcing a high conflict personality requires strategic planning and emotional control.

These two factors may make a significant difference to both your stress level and financial stability.

Hire the Right Attorney for These Complex Cases

Experience matters. But experience is not just the experience of being a lawyer or even the experience of being a divorce lawyer. It is the experience of dealing with high conflict personalities. Michael Roe has decades of experience managing these cases, and writing about the landmines involved in these kinds of cases.

Certain divorce attorneys are not built for litigation. It is not their skill or strength. Unfortunately, too many people learn this too late in the process.

Settlement is ideal. But when you are hiring someone to deal with a high conflict personality in your spouse, you need more than a good negotiator. You need a strong litigator with experiencing trying cases, or negotiating cases from a position of strength.

Attorneys who are skilled trial lawyers do not spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to resolve issues and then when the issue does not resolve twist their client’s arm to settle even though settlement is not in the client’s or the children’s best interest.

What Do Skilled Litigators Do When Divorcing a High Conflict Personality?

A skilled litigator will spend a reasonable amount of time to resolve issues but will not spend that time and money on wasted negotiations when it is clear the other side has no intention of being reasonable in those negotiations.

High conflict personalities rarely do the right thing easily. It is critically important to manage these cases from a position of knowledge and strength, and force the HCP (high conflict person) to capitulate and/or negotiate an appropriate settlement.

Recommended: – you must have a specific strategy designed for your case

It is not enough to hire a lawyer to file a divorce petition or respond to one and then “wait and see what happens.” That may be a good strategy in an uncontested or low conflict case but it does not work in a high conflict situation.

High conflict personalities “gas-light” their spouse.

It is the ultimate goal for the high conflict personality spouse to destabilize the other spouse in every way and as much as possible.

How Do You Combat the Gas-Lighting?

How do you combat this? With a plan of action and a strategy that you and your family law lawyer put together.

This strategy means there is a clear plan regarding the discovery process, which is the formal request for information.

There will also be a clear plan on child custody issues.

Proactive litigation strategy disarms the high conflict personality because it takes control away from him or her. The high conflict personality cannot simply terrorize the other spouse while nothing happens on the divorce.

You have confidence, you have a plan and you have clear direction of where your case will go.

High Conflict Personalities Make Threats to Destabilize You

For example, if your spouse threatens to take the children away from you and leave you penniless, an emotional reaction would likely be to freak out, contact your lawyer, cry, wonder and lament over whether he or she can really do that.

That precedes days or weeks of sadness, anger or frustration over that threat. Homemakers are especially susceptible to such threats.

Are You Divorcing a High Conflict Personality?

Do you need help with your case? We are highly experienced in dealing with high conflict personalities.

Please contact us for an affordable strategy session to discuss your specific situation. Our family law firm is highly experienced in handling pending and post-judgment divorce and parentage matters.

Read more informative articles on divorcing certain high conflict individuals. We link to those here:

If you believe you are in an unhealthy relationship with a Borderline or Narcissist, and worry about how to protect yourself and your children in a divorce, talk to Michael Roe. He is a nationally recognized authority on BPD and NPD in family law, and can help you navigate these very difficult waters. For more help and information, go to, and read William Eddy’s book, Splitting.

Then, contact Michael Roe at (331) 222-9161 or contact us online.

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