What can I expect in My Divorce if my Spouse has a Personality Disorder?

Personality disorders can wreak havoc in marriages, making life miserable for you and your children. It is not surprising that these mental health conditions are associated with higher rates of divorce, domestic abuse and other problems. But while divorce can be hard in any situation, divorcing a spouse with a personality disorder is often exponentially harder. People with these disorders can be very emotionally reactive and may lash out with explosive anger, try to control you with threats of self-harm, make false accusations, manipulate children to try and get them to take sides, or otherwise behave in a difficult and unreasonable manner.

If your spouse whom you are seeking to divorce has been diagnosed with a personality disorder, or if you suspect she or he may exhibit the symptoms of one, your divorce may be atypical and as such, it will be critical for you to have the benefit and , guidance of our New Jersey divorce attorneys that have experience navigating individuals through high-conflict marriage breakups. A knowledgeable attorney can help you understand strategies for coping with your spouse during divorce, as well as protecting your rights and interests throughout the process.

What is a Personality Disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “a personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.”  These conditions can negatively affect people who have them, across all areas of life, including in their relationships with their spouse and other family members.

Types of Personality Disorders

There are 10 recognized personality disorders that are grouped into three categories, or clusters, based upon their symptoms. Here is the breakdown:

  • Cluster A: Included in this cluster are paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder. Some of the symptoms include detachment from other people, being suspicious of others, and eccentric and unusual thinking and behaviors.
  • Cluster B: This cluster includes antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. These disorders are marked by unstable emotions, impulsivity, poor self-esteem, attention-seeking  behaviors, and a lack of empathy for others.
  • Cluster C: Included here are avoidant personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and dependent personality disorder. These disorders involve fear, anxiety, clinginess, feelings of inadequacy, inflexibility, and other characteristics.

Is Borderline Personality Disorder Grounds for Divorce?

Under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2, mental health issues that require institutionalization for 24 or more consecutive months following marriage and before a divorce filing can be grounds for divorce. But, to get divorced your spouse does not have to be institutionalized.  There are other grounds for divorce you can file under, including but not limited to extreme mental cruelty and irreconcilable differences.  In other words, borderline personality disorder in and of itself is not grounds for divorce unless your spouse was institutionalized as described. This does not mean, however, that you can’t divorce a spouse who has a borderline personality disorder, whether or not the disorder has contributed to or is primarily responsible for the problems in your relationship.

Keep in mind, though, that because people with borderline personality disorder have a great fear of being abandoned, are emotionally volatile, and can be impulsive and unpredictable, and even suicidal, it is necessary to tread carefully and be very vigilant when seeking a divorce in order to reduce the negative impacts on your children, yourself and even your spouse. Having an attorney to discuss your situation can allow you to find the best option to proceed for your family.

How Do I Divorce a Spouse with a Personality Disorder?

First, remember that your spouse has a mental health condition that they may not even realize they have or that they may be unable to control. While it may not be easy to feel sympathy for him or her when you are feeling attacked or manipulated, try not to call names, or assign blame for their condition. Here are some other things you can do that may make the divorce process less adversarial and less stressful, while also potentially helping your case:

  •  If possible, try to negotiate or mediate solutions to your divorce issues with the help of our attorneys, rather than going to court. Contention can be more likely when a spouse with a narcissistic or borderline personality disorder has an audience for which to perform.
  • If your spouse is antagonistic toward you, attempts to make you feel guilty or tries to manipulate you into coming back to them, limit communication as much as possible and keep the topics of that communication to benign and unemotional topics.
  • When you must communicate, try not to be drawn into their drama. Keep communication focused on the topic that you need to discuss or let your lawyer handle anything litigation-related or topics that involve a strong difference of opinion between you two.
  • Communicate in writing, if possible, rather than orally. This can help you stay measured in what you say while also serving as a record of conversations between you.  Email is the preferred methodology because it’s easier to attach and follow the thread in court documents if needed.
  • Keep cell phone messages, emails, voicemails, and other communications from your spouse, and always document your interactions in writing even if it is a recap of a verbal communication.
  • Consider getting a restraining order if your spouse is harassing you or you feel unsafe.
  • If you feel that you or your child is in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call the police and then call an experienced attorney.
  • Contact an experienced high-conflict divorce attorney to counsel you throughout the process from the start.  Setting the right tone and not making inadvertent mistakes will save you in the long run.

We know that some of these things are easier said than done when you are trying to extricate yourself from a marriage to an impulsive, manipulative, volatile, needy, or otherwise difficult person, but the more you are able to be the reasoned adult in the room, the better for your own emotional health and your divorce case. If you have children, the more you can stay calm and in control and demonstrate your stability and reasonableness, the better for them. And how you interact with your spouse and your children during separation and divorce proceedings may also factor into child custody determinations.

How Will a Personality Disorder Factor into Child Custody Decisions?

If you are not able to come to an agreement with your spouse about child custody, the New Jersey court will eventually have to make  custody (and even visitation) decisions for you. When judges make child custody decisions, the best interests of children are first and foremost. They look at a variety of factors, including the following:

  • The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate concerning the child
  • The parents’ willingness to accept custody
  • Any unwillingness to allow time with the other parent not based on substantiated claims of abuse
  • The interaction and relationship of the child with parents and siblings
  • A history of domestic violence if any
  • The safety of the child and of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent
  • The preference of the child when he or she is old enough and can reason and form an intelligent decision
  • The needs of the child
  • The stability of the home environment
  • The quality and continuity of the child’s education
  • The fitness of the parents
  • How close the parents’ homes are located to each other
  • The extent and quality of the time spent with the child before or after the separation
  • The parents’ employment responsibilities
  • The age and number of the children.

If a parent’s personality disorder or other mental health condition impacts their fitness as a parent and endangers their child’s well-being, the judge could decide it is not in the child’s best interest to award the parent custody. That parent may instead get visitation rights, potentially supervised. This is one example of many, however, and the facts of your situation would dictate the Court’s ultimate decision.

Whether your spouse’s borderline personality disorder or other personality disorder may be a factor in a judge’s custody decision depends upon the specific behaviors and how they do or do not affect your child and ability to co-parent, and his or her emotional and physical well-being. If the judge feels your child’s safety could be compromised due to the other parent’s personality disorder, it may be a factor in making their custody decision. A New Jersey divorce lawyer from our firm can advise you about this area and other issues involved in divorcing a spouse with a personality disorder once we learn the details of your situation and agree to represent you in your divorce case.

Contact Our Men’s Rights Divorce Lawyers in New Jersey for Help If You Suspect Your Spouse Has A Personality Disorder

If your spouse has a borderline personality disorder or other personality disorder that you expect will cause serious conflict once you file the divorce papers, call Men’s & Fathers’ Rights Divorce Lawyers by Schultz & Associates, LLC, for help. Our experienced divorce lawyers have effectively aided many clients facing similar situations, and we will do everything within the law to get you and your children the most beneficial outcome possible. You do not have to tolerate the roller coaster ride of a marriage to someone who has a chronic and debilitating personality disorder. When you are ready to get out of the marriage and move on with your life, we are here to help you take the necessary steps. Call our experienced New Jersey family law firm today to arrange a case evaluation at (201) 880-9770.

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