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Fighting A Narcissist For Custody

by | Betrayal Trauma

Fighting a narcissist for custody is usually a complex, painful, and grueling process that can take years.

Tina Swithin of One Mom’s Battle joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to educate empower victims as they fight for their children in and out of court. Listen to the BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.

When Fighting A Narcissist For Custody, Implement Meticulous Documentation

Careful and meticulous documentation is a powerful tool for mothers. Document:

  • Times that he returns the children early or picks them late (and then, after a signification amount of time, ask the courts to revise your custody agreement to reflect what your documentation shows)
  • Times that they cancel on parenting time
  • Times that they leave the children with a caregiver/other family member
  • Times that the safety of your children is compromised in any way

When Fighting Your Narcissist For Custody, Be The Healthiest, Most Authentic Part Of The Equation

The easy stamp or label for family court professionals to put on these cases is high conflict, and then the burden is on us to show that we are not part of the problem.

Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle

Victims can present their authentic, healthy selves in:

  • Written communication with the abuser
  • Court appearances
  • Interactions with child custody evaluators

For traumatized women, triggers and trauma responses are normal. But it’s important to understand that abusers want victims to look crazy. They want victims to react in ways that make them look unstable, unhealthy, and overreactive.

Victims can deal with trauma in healthy ways by expressing their feelings to safe people in safe places, the court is, unfortunately, not a safe place to work through trauma.

Fighting Your Narcissist For Custody May Be Daunting, But Don’t Give Up Hope

You are in the midst of one of the hardest battles of your life. Don’t give up hope.

Keep your tank full. It’s so easy to get beaten down by this system and I’ve had so many dark days where I really questioned if I could keep doing this. The reality is, you never know what’s around the next corner. I have seen the direst circumstances do a complete 180. I’ve seen things that, you know, you would never believe unfold, when somebody is feeling so beaten down and the system is failing them. You just never know what’s around that next corner. Our kids need us to keep our oxygen mask on.

Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle

You can do this – but you don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources available to you – including the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. Join today and share your story with other women who understand what you are going through.

Full Transcript:

Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.

I have Tina Swithin back on today’s episode. We started our conversation last week so if you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, go listen to that first and then join us here today. Before we get to her, I’d like to thank and acknowledge all of our members of Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is the only unlimited online resource for women who are being emotionally and psychologically abused and having difficulty with sexual coercion issues, as in, they’re not able to give their consent because their husband is secretly using pornography or having an affair or soliciting prostitutes, otherwise known as sexual addiction or compulsive sexual behaviors.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Resources

Here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we see those behaviors as abuse issues and our group is the only betrayal trauma group that really understands this type of abuse. When you join you get unlimited support. It’s live, multiple sessions a day in every single time zone. We’d love to see you in a session today.

So many of you have helped other women in need by giving the podcast a five-star rating. Here’s one that we just received. It says: Thank you. BTR has saved my sanity and has given me hope. I know I’m not alone and I’m not crazy and the pain and memories I have are very real. I cannot thank you enough for all that you do, you are being an instrument of the Lord. You are an angel.

I’m grateful for the compliment. I know I’m not an angel. I am just in this mess like all of you trying to make my way to peace and safety, and although I feel so much more peaceful I still have serious, serious trials that I’m facing because I share children with my ex, and so I have ongoing problems that I’m dealing with, with an abuser and children. I’m grateful to Tina Swithin for coming on today to talk about these things.

When Narcissistic Abusers Show Up “Shiny”

Anne: So in your book, The Narcissist Decoder, which I recommend to everyone (you can find it on Amazon or on her site One Mom’s Battle), in your experience, your ex wrote some pretty insane emails that were obvious blatant lies. He was an alcoholic, which you could prove. You can show that he showed up late, you can show that he, you know, did these things. For women who are in relationships with really shiny abusers, like they know that the written stuff is going to be read. So, they might gaslight in their emails, but they don’t swear, for example, and they show up on time for their parent time most of the time and stuff like that and it’s very hard to prove that they are unhealthy. What recommendations would you have for a woman in that situation with a very, I would say cunning but also squeaky-clean type narcissist?

Tina: That’s a really really difficult situation and it’s one that’s fairly common. You know you have those who are much better at impression management is what I call it. The CEOs, the sales guys, the ones whose livelihood depends on their image or they’re very savvy and would never put something in writing that is going to give you the ammunition to show, you know, look their words and actions are not in alignment.

“Time Hop In Your Mind”

First of all, something that I’m big on is profiling exactly who you’re up against, and I tell people, time hop in your mind. If you time hop one year or three years or five years, is this person really capable of parenting? Because what we know is that parenting can be really selfless work. It can be tedious, and especially to a narcissist, where there’s not a lot of feed supply you can get from your kids when you’re doing the monotonous day-to-day parenting stuff. A lot of these people what you’ll see is that over time, they’ll cancel on parenting time or they have a big event that they go to. So sometimes it’s just chipping away at it from that angle. Allowing them to when the battle dies down and they’re not getting a feed supply from constant court dates, a lot of them tend to phase out of the picture or they’ll start leaving the kids with other people. I call that the discarding of the kids where they fight for 50/50 custody but then you’ll find that they’re leaving your kids with their mom or a caregiver. So, then you’re documenting and building your case from that perspective.

Fight For Your Children By Empowering Them

It is very difficult to go up against somebody who is very savvy with what they put in writing, and it’s during those times that those are things that are out of our control. And that’s another thing I’m really big on working with my clients in determining what’s in your control and what isn’t. So, if you have somebody who presents so well and is never going to give you what you need to hold them accountable in court, that’s where your focus and your energy become empowering your kids. You know, really strengthening them, and empowering them so they are resistant to gaslighting, they know that they have boundaries that are physical, emotional, psychological. So sometimes the focus just becomes empowering our kids to withstand something like this and to connect the dots on their own.

I tell people you can empower your kids and teach them what healthy looks like and what toxic looks like without ever pointing the finger at their other parents. When they come home and connect those dots by themselves it’s much more powerful than anything you could ever say, and in those situations, that’s where we see kids get to be, you know preteens or teenagers where they recognize how dysfunctional the other parent is, and they’re becoming their own empowered little warriors to say, I’m not going this weekend. Then that’s a whole another, you know, battle that that can take place.

The Family Court System And “Neutrality Bias”

Anne: You mentioned the word toxic. When people say toxic relationship, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up a little bit. Same thing with high conflict divorce. These are words that sort of implying that it’s both of them have a problem or it’s a toxic relationship because both of them are toxic for each other, they’re just not good for each other. You know, something like that rather than recognizing there’s a toxic person who is poisoning that relationship and the other person is healthy, but she’s getting very sick from his poison. The same thing with a high conflict divorce, you’re literally just trying to tell the truth, you’re literally just trying to hold on to reality, and the reason why it’s such a huge fight and there’s the conflict is so enormous is that there’s another person who will not live in reality. So, there’s nothing to do but conflict in that situation. Can you talk about how the family court sees that for a bit and sort of how to navigate that unfortunate neutrality bias, I’ll call it that? Their bias toward neutrality rather than recognizing abuse.

“You’re In A System That Very Much Blames The Victim”

Tina: Right. So, I think that we’re up against a situation in the court system where the judges are not educated on domestic violence, and in fact, I’ve been compiling some numbers. A lot of states have zero requirements for judges to be trained in domestic violence, and the ones that do have training requirements, it is minimal. My 15-year-old daughter is more educated on domestic violence than most judges. So, we’re in a system that first of all isn’t educated. Second of all, you know, just like my judge actually said to me, “You chose this person to marry, you chose this person to have children with, it’s not my job to fix this situation.” I’ll tell you that was a huge gut punch, but in hindsight, I’m actually big on radical acceptance and managing my expectations and so as hard as that was for me to hear, I was glad to know that that he was open with his train of thought because then it allowed me to adjust the direction I was going and not look towards the court to be my savior or my protector. Most judges would never actually verbalize that, but I can guarantee you, they’re all thinking that. You’re in a system that very much blames the victim, and so it’s important to know that going into the system so that you can adjust your expectations,

Anne: How they see the terms toxic relationship and the term high conflict divorce like how do they perceive that? You know two crazy people rather than one abuser and one victim.

When Fighting Your Narcissist For Custody, Be The Healthiest, Most Authentic Part Of The Equation

Tina: The easy stamp or label for family court professionals to put on these cases is high conflict, and then the burden is on us to show that we are not part of the problem, and that’s very much an ultramarathon to do that but it’s critical that all of the decisions that we make go towards showing that we are the healthy part of the equation, and it can take time. In my case, it was probably year six before the court really recognized that he was the problem, and for me, that was keeping my communication top notch. It was my goal to paint a picture and present as the healthiest co-parent they had ever seen. That was my authentic truth if I had a healthy co-parent on the other end, I would be a lottery win for somebody in the co-parenting department. So, it was important for me to operate from my place of authentic truth, and that came across in my written communication with him, in my presentation in the court, or with child custody evaluators.

I remember going through my second custody evaluation and saying to the evaluator, “I understand that this appears to be a very high conflict divorce, and I’m somebody who has the ability to self-reflect to a fault. I am open to your feedback or your expertise. If you see any areas that I could be doing something different, I am a sponge. I will absorb that. I will put it into play because I’m truly at a loss for how to continue navigating the situation.” So, those types of descriptors show that I am not part of the conflict. It takes a while.

“That’s Not A Diagnosis And It Does You No Good”

One of the missing components in the court system is data and research on this topic. The Santa Clara University, just came out last year with a paper, and it has to do with high conflict individuals in the court system and the toll that they can take on the system but also on these cases. And that is really fantastic to start seeing that type of dialogue happening and research because other than that, even when somebody goes through the court system, and maybe they’re so desperate to get a psychological evaluation that shows that they’re dealing with a narcissist or someone in the antisocial personality disorder category. I see the desperation, and most of the time they can’t get that. The psychologist isn’t going to actually come right out and diagnose them, they’re going to say the person has high traits. That’s not a diagnosis and it does you no good and then there’s a lack of education in the court system on what that actually means. So, if you are one of the rare ones that get a solid diagnosis, now you’ve got a stack of papers that cost probably $20,000, and they still do you know good in a court system because of that lack of research on this issue.

Hope Versus Hopelessness

Psychologists, a lot of them understand narcissistic personality disorder as the definition out of the DSM, but there’s no deep research that shows how these people affect children or co-parenting situations or the legal arena, and that’s what’s desperately needed to make changes and to educate the court system on what we’re all dealing with.

Anne: What you do is so meaningful to so many women because it’s helping educate everyone about this issue and how devastating it can be, and also to give people hope. I receive your emails and I see the hope versus hopelessness kind of stuff and I think, like, can we keep going? Can we do this?

So, for so for someone who maybe had a bad experience with the court or who’s in the middle of a court proceeding who is just worried or scared or thinks is this going to work, or am I going to be worse off than I was before. Do you have any words of wisdom for them?

Fighting Your Narcissist For Custody May Be Daunting, But Don’t Give Up Hope

Tina: Keep your tank full. It’s so easy to get beaten down by this system and I’ve had so many dark days where I really questioned if I could keep doing this. The reality is, you never know what’s around the next corner. I have seen the direst circumstances do a complete 180. I’ve seen things that, you know, you would never believe unfold, when somebody is feeling so beaten down and the system is failing them. You just never know what’s around that next corner. Our kids need us to keep our oxygen mask on and 10 years ago if you would have asked me refilling my tank was a day spa for the whole day. Now it could be setting my alarm 10 minutes before my kids get up to just have some alone time and quiet and collect my thoughts and gratitude. It sounds so cliche, but I will tell you during the darkest days of my battle that gratitude journal was what kept me going, and sometimes all I could find to be grateful for was that the sun was shining or for my next breath or whatever it was, but it is truly such an important aspect to keeping yourself centered and keeping yourself filled with hope.

Helpful Advice For Victims

If I had advice for people in general in these situations is any time you can settle outside of court, it’s in your best interest. Sometimes that’s knowing what’s important to the other party, using it as leverage. Getting in and out of the court system as quickly as you can because even the majority of these cases, especially when there’s no fight left and they’re not getting that feed from the court system. They’re going to dig themselves deep and that could be with the kids to where they don’t have to keep the mask on anymore because there’s no one watching from the court system and the excitement of fighting you is done. That’s where the kids start to catch on that this is not normal, he is not healthy, and the kids start to take a stand.

“Don’t Make It A Battle”

A lot of times when we see that happening. The kids are a threat to him, because for image reasons if he’s got a 13-year old that’s sulking and isn’t posing for the cute Instagram photos anymore because they call him out, they know who he is, they become a threat to their image. So, that’s where you’ll see them discard the oldest child or just start returning the kids early or cutting their parenting time short or a whole variety of things. They usually, once the fight is done, this isn’t really what they want to do, and so that’s where it’s on us. I tell people if he wants to return the kids a day early or three hours early, don’t make it a battle. I would drop everything and come home and say, “You know, no problem, I’ve got this.” But you’re documenting it behind the scenes.

Fighting Your Narcissist For Custody Means Careful Documentation

A lot of times what I’ve had clients do, they will document a 12-month period of time showing okay we have 50/50 custody, but he’s only exercising 80% of that. Here’s my documentation from the past year, and all I’m asking is that the court revise our order to show what we’re actually doing, and that’s a good way to chip away at custody. If we’re looking at a high conflict case or person, and you’re appointed a family court professional to investigate. There’s no black and white answer for which way to go. I would want to know every single thing I could about that family court professional to know what their biases are, for example, if a custody evaluator or GAL was appointed.

Anne: When, when you say GAL, just for my listeners, that means guardian ad litem. So, that’s someone who’s representing the children in that case. Okay, keep going.

“Know Your System”

Tina:  Right, and some people in some states it’s called minor’s counsel: it’s an attorney representing the child and sometimes it’s not even an attorney, but that’s where it’s so important to know your system and to know everything you can about the judge, the minor’s counsel GAL, the evaluator. Because my strategy with one custody evaluator would be completely different than it would be with the next custody evaluator. There is an example I use, there’s a courthouse in California, I’m not going to say which town it is but there are two family court judges. If I were in courtroom A presenting my case, I would present it one way. If I was in courtroom B, I would present an entirely different way just based on what I know about each judge.

Fighting Your Narcissist For Custody Means Knowing Who You Are Working With In The Courts

One of those judges lost her son to a drug overdose, and so she takes addiction issues very seriously. In my case, my ex-husband was a raging alcoholic, so I would highlight and emphasize the addiction component and how it was affecting my kids in courtroom A, but I know in courtroom B that judge doesn’t care about alcohol. He’s probably a drunk himself. So, you know my presentation, depending on who the GAL is or who the evaluator or judge is night and day difference. People don’t really put enough weight into that. You need to know who these people are, what biases they potentially bring. Maybe they’re very father-focused and believe that dads should have 50/50. Maybe they are more trained in the temper years where, you know, they know that a primary parent is important. So, it’s really difficult to say, there is no one size fits all approach. It really comes down to who the professional is.

Submit Three Options So That The Narcissist Feels Like They Have Power

 Usually, the direction that I recommend people going is because the narcissist craves power; so if you’re up for a custody evaluation or minor’s counsel, I will tell people, your job is to choose three that you would be perfectly okay with, and then submit that to the other side and give them the power and control that they crave to be able to make the final decision. So, I would ask your attorney for every potential minor’s counsel that you could be appointed and everything they know about each person. So you’ll make your own list of potential biases, the good, the bad, the ugly for each person, and then anywhere you can look online doing the research on everyone in your area right up surrounding cities and start educating yourself on who it could potentially be.

Strategize When Fighting A Narcissist For Custody

If you’ve done the background work on who the professional is, and you know, you get GAL A, then it’s a no-go and that’s where you settle. So, that’s why I say strategy is so important in these situations, but this is such an emotional topic for us. It’s easy for me to sit here and say, you know strategy, strategy.

If my ex were to send me an email right now, it would completely trigger me and spin me, but the overall strategy is important and that’s where keeping ourselves centered and getting to a higher vantage point so we can look at it through the lens of strategy and not emotion, and keeping our strategy fluid. Because you never know when there’s going to be a turn in the road and you have to readjust and go okay well that wasn’t the direction I was planning to go, but I already had, you know, the other route mapped out and so now here’s a couple of new options that present themselves.

You Know The Monster You Are Fighting – But The Courts Don’t

 One of the final things that I feel is really important for people to remember is that the court doesn’t know either of you. You know what a monster you are up against, and it’s an area where I reflect back, and I was so focused on the light bulb moment that I had recently had. I have just been given a term. I know he’s a monster and I’m so eager to share that with everyone. Looking back, it took me six years into my marriage to really recognize what a problem this was, and he doesn’t know either of us and for all the judge knows I could be a pathological liar, a really good liar. So, keeping in mind it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove and starting to scrub it down to what matters to the court. An attorney told me very early on in my battle that even liars and jerks are allowed to be parents. So that has to factor into your radical acceptance equation, and knowing what’s important, but keeping in mind they don’t know either of you and so presentation is critical until they get to the point where they start recognizing the problems in the other person.

Anne: Well, Tina is amazing. Her website One Mom’s Battle is an incredible resource. I can’t recommend it enough. She has a number of books that are available on Amazon. Are they available on your website?

Resources Are Available For You

Tina: They are available on my website, and recommendations for other books and resources as well.

Anne: Great. Betrayal Trauma Recovery will never be the place for custody expertise, but Tina is, and so I recommend her highly especially before you start going down that road. So that you can get yourself educated about what is going to be coming at you in the future if you’re not quite there yet. Also, for women who perhaps thought that their custody problems were behind them and they’re facing new custody issues, Tina is a resource for that as well. Thank you so much for coming on today’s episode, Tina.

Tina: Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Anne: If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.

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