Ask an Attorney: Should I Convince the Judge my Ex is a Narcissist?

Question

I just listened to your interview posted from the WNAAD event. Thank you.

It seems you suggest that litigants shouldn’t draw attention to the cluster b disorder, but bring up behavior facts. I understand that now, and although I have never called him any names or referred to him in public or even among friends as a "narcissist," I have described his actions and others have come to their own conclusions. As far as the court is concerned, is describing the traits helpful at all?

Answer

1. Focus on Evidence of Misconduct

In my opinion -- and I'm sure there are people out there who would disagree -- the way you’ve been handling this with your friends is the same way you should handle it in court. These are the main reasons I believe it is better to not try to convince a judge about the diagnosis of a cluster b personality disorder:

  1. In most cases, the diagnosis itself is not “at issue.” Rather, the “best interest of the child” is the central matter the judge must decide.
  2. Even if there is a diagnosable personality disorder, if your evidence of inappropriate or harmful conduct is insufficient, the judge will likely disregard the disorder when making rulings because it is the conduct that must be addressed, not the status of a person having a certain diagnosis. So, keep your focus on the conduct.
  3. The party with a cluster b disorder (diagnosed or otherwise) most likely will take your accusations about a personality disorder label and “flip the script” and mirror the accusation back at you. Then you may end up with dueling mental evaluations which will be stressful, expensive, time consuming, and may include inaccurate conclusions because uninitiated mental health professionals can be bamboozled by skillful narcissists.
  4. A judge might order a parent with a cluster b diagnosis into some sort of counseling or treatment, following which the judge may have a false sense of a resolution of the cluster b symptoms.

2. Consider Creating the Issue

That being said, it might be worthwhile to make a cluster b diagnosis “at issue” in some cases:

  • If there was another proceeding in which he underwent a mental evaluation, you might be able to bring that court file into the current proceeding. For example, if there was domestic violence injunction proceeding during which he was ordered to undergo a mental evaluation that resulted in a cluster b disorder diagnosis, that might be useful in your present case.

How Issues are Created in Litigation

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Issues are Created in the Pleadings

From our "Legalese" page: A pleading is a formal document in which a party to a legal proceeding (esp. a civil lawsuit) states claims or responds to claims and asserts defenses. 'Pleading' also can refer to that initial stage of a legal proceeding during which claims and defenses are refined and narrowed.
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  • If there is already an established history of misconduct, then putting that misconduct into the context of a diagnosable personality disorder to predict future misconduct and protect the children might be beneficial. You really should not attempt this on your own (if you can avoid it) because of the likely necessity for expert testimony and cross-examination, which will require the skills of an experienced attorney to execute effectively.
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One Comment

  1. Thank you! This helps me tremendously.

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