Parenting Tips on How to Proceed with Co-Parenting with a Disordered Parent

Even when divorcing a narcissist or going through separation or divorce from a Cluster B, psychopath, narcissist, or sociopath, Virginia law still requires judges to make written findings pursuant to Virginia Code Section 20-124.3, or “Best interests of the child; visitation.” When making a custody or visitation determination, judges will go through all of the factors set forth in this Code Section, and your attorney should address each factor as well. The idea of co-parenting is contemplated in Sections 6 and 7, where the court must consider the ability of each parent to actively support your child’s relationship with the other parent, and whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent from meaningful parenting time with your child. Note that the court may disregard this factor if it finds that there was a history of family or sexual abuse, pursuant to Virginia Code Section 16.1-228.

I represent the non-disordered parent in these cases, and in my experience, the overwhelming majority would love to be able to successfully co-parent with the other parent, but the unique and difficult circumstances inherent in most of these cases, make co-parenting virtually impossible. So, what to do if you know that the disordered parent cannot, will not, and will never be able to actively support your child’s relationship with you? For example, we all know that in most of these cases, a simple email such as, “Johnny is going to be playing in a championship soccer game this weekend,” could cause the disordered parent to come to the soccer game and create an unwelcome scene, and the result is that your child will not be able to focus on actually playing the game.

The Virginia Code does not really anticipate these scenarios, and quite frankly, I don’t think it anticipates anything other than two loving, non-disordered parents. That’s where your normal, non-disordered parenting really goes a long way to help your child develop wonderful coping mechanisms in life and will help him when he encounters other disordered people in life. I know it’s very difficult, but there are several tips that I’ve compiled to help you co-parent successfully.

Parenting Tip No. 1 When Co-Parenting with a Disordered Parent: Try to Limit “Tattling” with Support and Empathy

Do your best to not contact your child more than the court order allows or once a day, to say goodnight, etc., during the other parent’s visitation time. If your child is texting you incessantly about what the disordered parent is doing or not doing, try your best to answer firmly and supportively, that you understand, and the other parent is trying her best. This is the truth. Don’t be dismissive, but don’t engage in triangulating the other parent.

Parenting Tip No. 2 When Co-Parenting with a Disordered Parent: Avoid Criticizing the Other Parent

I know this one is tough, and we all have times where we just have had enough and may say critical things about the other parent, but this can become confusing to a young child, especially, when the narcissist’s façade to the rest of the world is of being a wonderful, loving parent. Personally, I think it’s okay to allow your child to have a fantasy period of mom being a wonderful, caring parent. So, try yoga, mindfulness exercises, or count to 20, to stay silent or positive in the face of such ridiculous parenting behavior. I think this one is the hardest, based on my own personal experience.

Parenting Tip No. 3 When Co-Parenting with a Disordered Parent: Avoid Hitting “Reply” and Create a File Folder to File Away B.S.

We know they love to bait, deflect, and try to make you feel “less-than.” You don’t have to reply to most communications, unless your court order specifically states otherwise. So, find a great therapist and use that space for verbal detox and you can share what you’d like to say in a reply with your therapist. I also sometimes tell my clients to create a file folder, label it “B.S.” or anything else you want. Put these types of emails in that folder as soon as you get them by training your mind to focus only on the important things and disregard the rest. Pretend that the email is embedded with some virus or worm that is activated after five seconds, so you have five seconds to review it, and you must put it away after that, and you cannot keep it in your Inbox with your regular, non-disordered emails.

Friends can also help you. In my experience, most of the emails and texts my clients frequently receive are examples of these disordered ego defenses: they’re baiting, critical, and threatening. If your ex is going to sue you, a reply is probably not going to prevent that. Many of these disordered people (in my experience, borderlines, histrionics, and anti-socials) thrive in an adversarial setting and will threaten litigation whenever he/she feels that sense of emptiness or boredom.

Parenting Tip No. 4 When Co-Parenting with a Disordered Parent:Engage in Litigation if it Makes Financial and Practical Sense

You have a suspicion that the other parent is making a lot more than he did last year, and you believe he should pay more child support. Should you go toe-to-toe with a narcissist to get what’s fair and what you and your child deserve? In my experience, it is very difficult to prove additional income in these cases because these people are so adept at hiding money, income, finding ways to circumvent tax laws and court orders by underreporting income or finding ways to receive cash payments. This means that your attorney will have to spend lots of time and your money by finding the assets. Financial abuse is very common in these cases. Do the math. Talk to a trusted family law attorney. Is it worth it to possibly gain $150 more per month if you have to spend $20,000 getting there?

Parenting Tip No. 5 When Co-Parenting with a Disordered Parent: Find a Balanced Medium

As the normal and very reasonable parent, we can take things too far with the no-contact and gray-rocking. So, pretend you’re holding a scale. If you’re too aggressive, many judges will not be able to see the difference between your behavior and the Cluster B’s behavior. I know it’s not fair, but think of it from a judge’s perspective. If the Cluster B is too aggressive, your aggressive behavior dealing with him/her doesn’t set you apart from him/her. It’s much easier in this case for judges to simply think, “They’re both completely unhinged. These two will put their child in the middle. One is not much better than the other. Let’s just split the difference.”

But, make sure you don’t simply roll-over and become submissive. Pick your battles carefully when divorcing a narcissist, same as No. 4, above. Clarify character assassinations with simple denials in your answer or response, and let your attorney handle the legal arguments in the answer or brief. For example, your ex files a modification motion for increased visitation. says, “Jen suffers from panic and anxiety disorder. I have seen her have a nervous breakdown while taking care of our daughter.” Your answer to that allegation should simply state: “Denied. Strict proof is demanded hereof.” Resist the temptation to become baited. Typically, judges know that many of these allegations are simply untrue.

I know it’s difficult to co-parent effectively with a disordered parent, and in many cases, impossible. So, I plan to write more about what to do instead. You can get through this, and finding a wonderful support system is key, comprised of a knowledgeable attorney, therapist, and support group. For more information about the free support group I offer, please contact my office.

If you’re ready to get a divorce, Contact Keithley Law, PLLC, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office with one of our Virginia divorce attorneys. We can walk you through the steps to get the most out of your divorce.