Narcissism and Child Custody Cases

Personality clashes between parents are going to happen in even the most happy of relationships. When the parents divorce or separate, these disagreements can become more pronounced. It is not uncommon for one parent to believe the other is being unreasonable or selfish, but when these types of personality traits become overly pronounced, it could be that one parent is a narcissist.

Narcissism is a personality disorder and has a broad range of symptoms. Narcissists may come across as conceited or boastful, but they also can be perceived as charming when things are going their way. They tend to become impatient or angry if things aren’t going the way they expected or hoped. The clinical definition of narcissism includes having an exaggerated sense of self-importance, having a sense of entitlement, unwillingness to empathize with others or recognize their needs, expecting unquestioning obedience or compliance from others, and believing that he or she is superior to others. Please note that in order for a person to be considered a narcissist, he or she must have been formally diagnosed as such by a qualified clinician.

Having a narcissist on the other side of a child custody case presents special issues that need to be carefully considered. First, the narcissist tends to have a need to be seen as correct in every situation and could manifest this need by talking badly about the other parent in front of the children. It is not uncommon for narcissists to attempt to manipulate the children to love only the narcissist and alienate from the other parent. Second, the narcissist will attempt to maintain as much control as possible over the situation. This may be done through physically withholding the children or by using monetary means. In the case of physical withholding, it is very important to get a court-ordered visitation schedule in place as soon as possible. With a court order, the other parent will have more of an ability to force the narcissist to allow reasonable visitation. As for money, if the narcissist has traditionally been the “bread winner,” it is not uncommon for him or her to attempt to withhold support or to try to demand a specific accounting on how the money is being spent. This is about control, and, again, a court order to curtail such behavior should be obtained as soon as possible. Finally, interaction with the narcissist should be kept to only the issues involving the children. The narcissist will likely attempt to derail discussions by talking about blame or otherwise trying to manipulate the situation. The other parent should refuse to discuss any topic that is not directly relevant to the child custody issue at hand.

Sharing child custody with a narcissist is emotionally difficult for both the other parent and the children in helping our clients deal with these difficult situations. Contact us today at (732) 529-6937 for an appointment to talk about your children and how to protect them.

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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