Leaving an Abusive Wife: Pre-Divorce Checklist

When a man reaches the point of deciding to divorce an abusive wife, he has typically been thinking, and possibly ruminating over, the possibility for many years. As Dr. T has discussed previously, there are many factors that work against a man’s  successful break from a wife who displays a litany of narcissistic or borderline personality traits.

Instinctively, he knows that the divorce process will be hell.  He might fear losing relationships with his children. Using children as vindictive tools of manipulation is a favorite tactic abusive women employ to keep the husband from leaving her. Alienation campaigns are nearly always used against the man when the couple has children together.

He may fear losing his retirement or his career.  He may have bought into the repeated messages he receives from his wife that he’s no good and no one else will put up with him or that he’ll never make it without her. Simply put, a man may spend years wanting to leave and knowing that he should leave, but his fear of unthinkable consequences keeps him stuck.  Many men have been in such a state of tortured indecision for 15 or 20 years.

As with any big endeavor, the free floating fear of unknowns can be reduced to a more manageable level with some good information and planning. That holds true for men who are deciding whether to leave an abusive wife or have made the decision, but do not know exactly how to put their decision to action. I have found that my clients fare much better when they have made a few key preparations in advance.

The steps I outline below are helpful for men in this situation for a couple of reasons.  First, it gives them something to do, and taking actions (however small) feels like accomplishment; it helps build confidence and it helps men begin to trust their own judgment and decision-making abilities. All of these things are crucial for men who are gaining their independence after being manipulated and oppressed and undermined for years. Taking these steps can also save a great deal of time and money down the road—resources we all need a little more of, and especially  significant for men in this situation.

When asked “how” to divorce an abusive wife, Dr. T has previously advised against advance disclosure of your plans to leave.   Generally speaking, this is also how I would counsel men to make their exit from an abusive marriage, and here’s why:   Your NPD/BPD wife is much better at the manipulation game than you are. For every one of your maneuvers, she’s got three alternative plans to keep you from succeeding, and she doesn’t even have to think about it—it comes naturally to her and requires no effort on her part.

You will not out think her and you will not anticipate the many ways she could screw up your departure. If she senses that you are on your way out, she’ll go into battle mode and manufacture a family emergency or spend all of your money or enlist the kids to lay a gigantic guilt trip on you  or any one of countless other tactics. Your best chance for a successful departure is to do your planning without tipping your hand and make your exit before she has an opportunity to manipulate you into staying.

With that advice in mind, here is a checklist of items for men who are preparing to leave an abusive marriage:

1.  Gather and copy important papers,  and move the copies out of the house and into a secure location. Once your wife suspects that you may leave her, it will become exceedingly difficult to access information that you will need to begin establishing an independent life. Collect records of vital statistics, military records related to benefits and so forth, bank statements, social security statements, information about retirement accounts, vehicle titles, mortgage and loan documents, kids’ school records and contact lists, credit card statements, checkbook, stock certificates, etc.—any papers that are kept in your home that you may conceivably want access to during a divorce process, you should copy and move to a safe deposit box or to your office or some other location away from home where you will be able to access the papers.

2.  Open a separate bank account in your name. Stop making deposits into your joint account and keep an eye on your balances in your joint checking and savings accounts. If your wife is planning on leaving or suspects that you are on  your way out, more than likely you will see transfers out of your joint accounts. If that happens, it is important that you preserve enough cash for you to be able to make the move and meet expenses for a short time –please speak to a lawyer in your jurisdiction about your rights to money in marital accounts.

In my jurisdiction, I typically advise clients in this situation to withdraw half of the funds in joint accounts if the money is community property and deposit the money in a separate account. Laws differ from state to state, so it’s important that you clear this with an attorney.

3.  Arrange for your paycheck to be direct deposited in your separate account. When your paycheck is no longer being deposited into your joint account, your wife will get wise to your plan to leave. Timing is important. Check with your HR department well in advance to find out how long it takes to stop automatic deposits and reroute them to a different account.

4.  Start moving small family keepsakes and heirlooms and items of particular personal value to a location away from the marital residence. Consult an attorney in your jurisdiction about this, but in most states property that is inherited or gifted is separate property. If your father left you his antique watch, it’s probably your separate property.  The reason to move items of personal or sentimental value is that those are the items that are most likely to be destroyed or “lost” by your NPD/BPD wife in the course of a temper tantrum. She will try to destroy whatever means the most to you—remove such items from her reach to the extent possible.

5.  If you keep firearms in the house, remove ammunition from the house and remove or hide the guns. This is going to be the most volatile time of your relationship with a woman who has a history of irrational behavior. This is the most dangerous time for you and you cannot predict what an irrational person will do under such circumstances. Your personal safety must be a primary concern and never taken for granted.

6.  If your wife has ever threatened you with false reports of domestic violence, alert law enforcement before you leave  and inform them of any past threats of false reports. If she has ever made any kind of hint that she would report you for family violence, do not think she’s bluffing and do not assume she would not go that far. She would. The fact that she even thought to threaten you with such a thing is a big red flag—non-disordered people do not think that way. If she can think it up, she can follow through.  Protect yourself.

7.   Make a spare set of car keys and give them to a trusted friend or store them in your office or a location to which your wife has no access. If all goes as planned, you will not need your extra set of keys. However, if your wife finds out what you’re up to, expect her to make an all-out effort to thwart your plans, including taking your car or your keys to keep you from leaving. Have a backup plan, just in case.

8.  Plan what you’ll say to the kids. If your spouse is physically violent, seek the assistance of an attorney in removing your minor children from a physically abusive parent. Custody matters with minor children require expert assistance. If you have adult children who are living away from home, you can help preserve those relationships by heading off your wife’s inevitable attempts to turn them against you.

You will need to be honest with your children about the circumstances you’ve been enduring—chances are they do not know what’s been happening or the extent of it. Plan what you will say to them–draft a script if that helps. In most situations, it’s best not to tell your adult children that you are leaving until you are out of the house. The first discussion with your adult children should take place as soon as possible after you have actually left.

It’s likely that your adult children are more loyal to their mother than they are to you because your wife has been making negative remarks about you  and planting seeds of discord and doubt over the years. If your wife rules the roost, chances are your children are accustomed to doing her bidding and accepting her version of events without question. Do not be surprised if they side with your wife and if at first they don’t believe what you are telling them about the abuse.

Don’t despair and don’t give up—exposure of your wife’s behavior is what is called for. Encourage your adult children to check with you about the truth of anything negative their mother says about you and promise to be honest with them. Eventually, most adult children will begin to see and understand the dynamics and will no longer take as true the negative things that are said about you by your soon-to-be-ex-wife. Give it time, and don’t give up.

9. Hire a lawyer and file for divorce. You may think that once you’re out of the house there’s no rush in filing for divorce or getting the process over with. That kind of thinking is usually a mistake. Once you file for divorce, many jurisdictions have standing court orders that protect your assets while you go through the divorce process—those orders do not take effect until the divorce petition is filed and served on your spouse.

This will (in theory) give you some recourse if your wife behaves badly and destroys property or runs up credit card debt. Also, your wife may not think you’ll actually go through with divorcing her until she is actually served with divorce papers. Actually filing the divorce petition is a very strong boundary that you can establish right away. If you have hired a lawyer, you can avoid contact with your wife by deflecting communications to your lawyer. Remember, she is still trying to engage you so that she can maintain her control over you. If you have little to no contact with her, she cannot regain her footing or exercise any control over you.

10.  Disengage. End all contact with your abusive wife. This is really hard, so be prepared to struggle with this one. You will feel compelled to speak with her. You will feel extreme anxiety if you do not pick up the phone when she calls. Even if you hate it, it is difficult to break this pattern, but it is imperative that you figure out how to stick to it.

You may have to have some ongoing contact because of minor children. It is helpful to some men to have a list of canned replies that can be given in response to attempts to engage you and draw you into conversations. For instance:  “I will not discuss our property division with you, the lawyers will sort it out” or “The children will be available to be picked up at 6:00 on Friday at my mother’s house; please be on time.” You get the idea.

If you must communicate, keep it very short and limited to business and get out of the conversation after you have delivered your communication. You do not have to listen to what a sorry jerk you are. You do not have to explain yourself or make your wife understand your position—there is nothing productive that can come from such conversations.

11.  Tell it like it really is. You’ve probably become an expert at making excuses for your wife’s behavior and hiding the truth from everyone outside of your marriage. Now it’s time to expose what’s really been going on. That’s not to say that it’s wise to parade around with a victim sign across your chest, but now it’s important that you face the truth yourself.

It may also be necessary to expose the truth in situations where your wife embarks on a smear campaign against you. It’s not uncommon for this type of woman to tell lies about you to your family members (her in-laws), your children, the kids’ teachers, your mutual friends, the parents of your kids’ playmates, therapists, pediatricians, social workers and whoever else will listen. You can defend yourself by exposing the truth.  This is especially important in the legal context—it’s crucial  that you control misinformation that could negatively affect you in court.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services for professional inquiries.

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  1. Verbal says

    Ms. Malonis:

    I am wondering about the timing of Item #9. In some states wouldn’t you want to file for divorce before moving out of the house? Moving out first may give the appearance of abandoning the family. How critical is the timing? Thanks.

    • says

      Hi Verbal.

      It might depend on whether there are minor children involved. In such cases, more planning is involved and it’s best to get an attorney involved in advance of taking any actions — this is especially true since the laws vary from state to state, and I am not able to give advise that would apply in every case.

      On the other hand, if it’s a matter of leaving the home in contemplation of divorcing an abusive wife, and if there are no children whose needs must be considered, accusations of abandonment will not likely have an impact on any subsequent property division or court ordered spousal maintenance. Again, this is something that could vary by jurisdiction, so if you have concerns about this it is wise to check with an attorney where you live. I can say that in my state, abandonment under these circumstances would likely have no bearing at all, particularly if the divorce petition is filed soon after you leave the home.

      I don’t know that there is any harm in filing for divorce before you move out, other than the difficulties it will present if you are still living under the same roof and your wife becomes aware that the petition has been filed. In most cases, that would tend to escalate conflict and would make a successful departure more difficult.

      • Older Wiser Sadder says

        Your appropriately general article packed a lot of good advice into a short space, and I appreciate it very much. I hope you can adapt the advice more specifically to my situation, because I think it would help more readers than me.

        I have heart disease, COPD, 5 different diagnoses of spinal problems, a neck problem, and Parkinson’s disease (PD). I had a severe fall on the ice 10 months ago, causing 6 broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a broken cheekbone, and a brain hemorrhage. Two doctors said I was lucky to be alive. Sometimes I doubt that.

        As I declined especially in the past few years, my wife grudgingly absorbed some of my work (for our mutual benefit), which evolved early in our marriage of 46 years. Until about five years ago, I kept my promise to remain as independent as before for as long as I could, which cost me dearly, but it was what I wanted. Good thing, because she told me often, “I’m not a nurse, don’t intend to be, and don’t want to take care of you.”

        Consequently, she was unreliable in doing more than her preferred main job in our original division of labor, the cooking. (Which she did very well–I’m spoiled–in that regard. She received a lot of narcissistic supplies for her culinary delights.) My diagnosis of PD was in 1998, and I finally needed to ask for help in getting to appointments with doctors. She’d show up variably: on time (when I was lucky), late, or not at all (sometimes with a call, sometimes not). There’s more, but you get the idea.

        Except that her attitude became worse and worse. My pain management specialist characterized our situation succinctly: “As he gets frailer, she gets meaner.”

        During spring break of this year, my wife took another week-long vacation FROM me, not WITH me, to use her words. “What happens to me?” I asked. “You can stay here and have a friend look in on you, or you can fly somewhere to visit someone.”

        Time to introduce another of her major mean behaviors: she alienated our three children to varying degrees. Now, one sides with her, one with me (almost a miracle), and the third pretends to be “neutral” but unmistakably favors her. No contest which person I visited. After all, the NW had been threatening for several years to “put you in a nursing home.” I need some help, but I got by on what she provided, though she left home about 9 a.m. and avoided it until about 8 p.m. Needless to say, this isolated me, all part of her program.

        Also for several years, she threatened to leave me.

        In addition, at one period I felt suicidal and told her so. She scoffed and threw in my face, “You’d never do it!”

        The final deed I’ll mention is her threat to call 911 if I ever mentioned suicide to her again. This was also the advice of the wife of our son she alienated from me.

        This is background for the latest news, followed by my questions. After spring break, before I returned home (escorted both outbound and returning by a VERY good friend), she moved out of the house, left me a kiss-off note that she was engaging a lawyer, and left me no phone or address where I could reach her. I guessed where she might be a couple of days later, showed up there, and used my key to move the car she’d driven (so that she wouldn’t likely give me the slip, since I move slowly). The car was within the same parking lot, so she had no trouble finding me sitting in it.

        I opened the car door slowly and said, “Hello,” mildly. My wife is a stealth or covert narcissist, and she’d never shown her rage publicly before, much less in front of our friends—though she’d long triangulated (by sneaky implication or passive aggression) with our friends and family on both side. This time, she blew our carefully maintained cover and said loudly, “I’m going to have my lawyer call the police that you sexually harassed me.” Sure enough, I got a call from the police telling me not to approach her again in any way. Not just in person, but no phone calls, emails, or messages delivered by a friend. No notification of phone messages, mail, or packages of medicine for her.

        She’s sent me two emails asking for information related to the approaching divorce. But to reply, I would violate the police advisory. (My understanding is shaky, but I think/hope the police called me as a “courtesy,” not issuing a formal Police Order. Nevertheless, I’m avoiding her like the plague—which it literally is, because she slammed the driver’s side door on my broken bones, after refusing to give me any information, even the name of her lawyer.)

        I found out from a friend that the police warned her not to approach me, either. Over and over, she’s told me she’s fine operating on a double standard, so I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was that she’s emailing me, tempting me to reply and get me in trouble. She’s written our daughter blaming me for not being “responsive” and “cooperative.”

        BTW, my STBXW blames me because I’ve somehow managed to keep a close relationship with the daughter and her husband, to the extent that they’ve invited me to come live with them, though the stress and depression have plunged my health much lower than before, and thus I now need more care. They seem ready to break the ties with NW, as well as her narcissists-in-training, but I’ve encouraged her at least to send an occasional email and photo.

        Sorry to go on so long, but here are my questions, as you’re in a position to answer them.

        1. What could I do to clear my formerly spotless reputation? (As inexpensively as possible.) I didn’t find your article till she’d blindsided me.
        2. How can I negotiate property division or anything else if I can’t communicate with her even if she initiates the contact?
        3. She moved out on me and her second email came half a year after she abandoned me and the house. What’s the significance of six months?
        4. Considering my health, or lack of it, will her desertion be held against her?
        5. In your experience, how do judges respond to therapist talk like that on this site (e.g., narcissistic supplies, abuse, triangulation, parental alienation)? If psych jargon is frowned on, what about the same concepts using everyday language? Are they likely to take this into account in dividing the assets?
        6. You know the housing market is in the toilet in most places. Do you ever advise divorcing but not selling the house until later, after we repair and renovate, and after the economy, I hope, improves?
        7. How can you appeal to fully grown kids with their own families who believe her lies and character assassination, or act toward me as though they do? What does “not giving up” look like? I’ve emailed them and phoned the “neutral” one 3 times. No reciprocation even on Father’s Day or my birthday. I doubt that anything I say would make any difference, because ever since high school she took their side against me, in conflicts that she stirred up—e.g., excused them from their single hour of chores/week. Because I’d always been the best dad I could be (not perfect, but other parents often told me how great I was with the kids), I thought they’d grow out of it when they became adults, especially after they married and had kids. I thought wrong. They bought into her view that “flexible” and “kind” mean “weak” and “despised,” and “principled” and “firm” are ‘stubborn” and “controlling.” Since their sister supports me, they’ve attacked her as well as me. I’ve caught NW giving “continuing education” to the kids about me in current email. Much of it is too subtle for most people to catch. I was bamboozled for ages. Probably I’m still sucker material. As starved as I am for the “right sort” of woman, I doubt I’d be over this one while there’s enough left of me to offer to a new love.
        8. My wife has withdrawn significant amounts of money, for us, but not come close to cleaning out our joint accounts. Her lawyer wrote briefly that she wants to divide our assets and accounts 50-50 as they are now. I didn’t abuse her, so her living separately was an indulgence, not a need. She’s been taking a “vacation FROM you, not WITH you” for more than six months. To me, she should bear that expense totally from her “50%.” Do the courts agree?
        9. I’ve had to hire a home care helper a few hours a day. Who pays his cost, which I wouldn’t have had to bear if she’d stayed in our home even if she filed for divorce? I’ve also paid him to do minor fix-ups. We’ve been told that a few people divorce but continue to live in their same house or apartment because it’s nicer than either could afford with only half their assets. What do you think?
        10. How are retirement pensions and income handled? I’m retired, and so is she, and she now has a part-time job. I might need soon to move to an assisted-care facility. (She wins again.) Without part of her continuing income, I’m not sure whether I could be able to afford a decent (nothing elegant, but no death trap, either) assisted-living facility—which I might not be ready for if I’d lived 46 years with a loving, nurturing wife instead of someone who evolved into stressing me daily.

        If you refer me to a book you trust that answers questions for newbies, that would be great. Whatever you can do, I’ll appreciate it. Thanks a bunch!

  2. chris117 says

    I’d recommend one item added to the list especially for those having custody issues along with divorce. Keep a daily journal, log, manuscript, or whatever you want to call it. This log should include activities done by each parent with the child (include even the day to day items getting them off to school, homework, cooking, bathtime, bedtime, and the special activities), a description with quotes of any abusive outbursts between you and wife and/or kids and any witnesses to these including the children, and any other relevant items which may be useful.

    • says

      Excellent suggestion, especially if there are custody issues. Document everything!

      One further pointer along these lines is to document events right after they happen or as they are happening, rather than waiting a few days and writing down events from memory. The reason for this is that it will be easier to have the documentation admitted into evidence if you are recording events as they happen or immediately after.

  3. Marshall Stack says

    As Verbal mentioned, the thing keeping me from leaving is that I don’t want it to look like I’m abandoning my children. I can’t take them with me because I have no family, nor do I have friends who could take the three of us in. Another reason I worry about taking them with me is that my wife hasn’t been physically abusive to them; I believe some of her interactions with them could be considered verbally or emotionally abusive, and she’s been verbally/emotinally abusive to me in front of them, but I worry that leaving either way (with or without them) would look bad in the eyes of a judge.

    • says

      If you’re concerned about your children when they are with their mother, and especially if you will be seeking primary custody of them — you really cannot leave without them. You’re right, that will look bad to the judge, and it undermines your ability to express your concerns in court. In your case, timing is going to be important and you would be wise to get an attorney involved from the outset so they can assist with planning and getting you and your kids in the very best position going forward.

      If your spouse is unwilling to leave, you may have to be the one to leave — hopefully with your children. In my state, a judge will not order one spouse to leave the marital residence unless that spouse has committed family violence. An attorney where you live should be able to help you with this information pretty easily and give you some guidance.

      • Marshall Stack says

        She won’t leave. As a matter of fact, she’s tried twice in the past few months to talk me into leaving, which I have steadfastly refused to do. I worry about the effect it might have on my kids (ages 6 and 2), and I really have nowhere to go. I’ve lost contact with my friends, and I’ve alienated myself from my family due to some problems that led to major blowups between my wife and me.

        I consulted a lawyer not long ago, but there were some red flags that he might not be giving me the best advice. I’m seeking a second opinion, and you’ve given me some ideas on how to move forward. Thank you for your help!!

        • Henry Hoover says

          This sounds a lot like my situation. I am fast approaching the one year mark since I made the decision to file for divorce and about the 10 month mark from when I actually filed. I am STILL in the same house with my NPD STBX. It is horrible. But she won’t leave, because I pay all the bills. I won’t leave, because I can’t take my daughter with me. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. We finally have a court date in less than a month. Hopefully it will not be postponed, again.

          • Marshall Stack says

            Depending on what you mean by “horrible”, you may be within your rights to leave with your daughter or have a court order put into place requiring your wife to leave. I’d run that one by a lawyer…

  4. Lebrocq says

    I’ll add to point #6:

    Lawyers and women’s shelters will coach women to use every means at their disposal including abuse allegations. When I talked to a director of women’s shelter where I live she confirmed what I had suspected. The shelter “takes the woman at her word” and hence do not make any effort to confirm or deny the allegations are true or false. If you’re with one of these women they will cry and carry on and be more than happy to convince anyone who will listen you are evil.

    Lawyers will actually talk in terms of – get him angry and then phone the police. The police then have to act and you have one huge strike against you moving forward and possibly will be fighting two court battles at the same time.

    There is a huge bias against men in court – you’re assumed to be a dirt bag and it takes a lot of effort to over come that with a judge.

    As far as keepsakes, important personal stuff. Definitely get things of personal value out of the house well before – anything you leave behind you will never see again.

    If you have young children:

    Be the best dad you can be every minute. Don’t let your child see any of the stress, give them 100% of your time when you have them, and don’t ever disparage your ex in front of them. Be involved with all their activities. She will try to separate you from your children – the best way to counter that is to be a great parent. And think about it – you need to be a great parent to make up for the fact your ex will treat them like crap just to get to you.

    • says

      This is all very sound advice.

      I especially like you last point. No matter what happens with custody of the children, as long as you are not prohibited from seeing your children, you can have a great influence on them. If you do not have primary custody of them, still do as Lebrocq says — spend all the time you can with them, participate fully in their lives and activities, visit them at school, go to their doctor appointments, call them, send them cards, coach their teams, get to know their teachers and their friends’ parents, and be the very best parent you can be. It makes a difference.

      Do not get discouraged by your ex’s attempts to alienate your children from you, and don’t get mad at your children when your ex puts them in the middle. Just keep being the best parent you can be, and it will be impossible for them to really be alienated from you. Tell them the truth without smearing your ex. And if your ex is trashing you to them, the best thing you can do for your kids and for your relationship with your kids is to prove your ex wrong by being a great dad. Your kids will trust their experiences of you over what your ex says.

      • James says

        The problem is when the kid is truly brainwashed. My teen daughter truly shakes with hate when she sees me and does not even speak to me. She comes to a restaurant each Wednesday (her mother observes from the parking lot) and eats a salad and leaves. Her mind is completely captured by the perverted psyche of her mother. My sweet, loving daughter has morphed into an immoral, mean person. I am “all bad” and her mother is as perfect as God. Even though her mother left me in a fit of pure rage and broke up the family, the child blames me! You can give all the presents (which are thrown out) and all the love (rejected) and be positive and loving (all and act I am sure she thinks) but all anyone ever tells you is that she will grow out of it when she is an adult and realize that her evil mother stole her childhood away.

        No one ever does anything to stop the twisted, hateful mother. It is all bread and butter for the attorneys, courts and adjunct medical professionals.

        I married a witch. I divorced a witch. She is still a witch and I am glad I am not around her. I just wish it could have been Elizabeth McGovern.

        • george says

          James, I can relate to what you are going through. It sounds like what you may be dealing with is called Parental Alienation or Parental Alienation Syndrome. There is a fair amount of stuff on the web which describes what it is, but sadly I haven’t found anything which describes what to do about it when it happens. It can be a very common tactic with BPDs. I’ve found that much of the system is very reluctant to call the mother on her bad behaviors. The problem is that without any repercussions, she doesn’t have any incentive to stop those bad behaviors. In my opinion, it’s really quite simple why BPDs engage in this form of abusive behavior. First of all, it’s quite effective. She gets to punish you where she knows it hurts and use the very effective tool that is your daughter. If allowed to continue for an extended duration, your daughter will be completely programmed and be in auto-pilot and will continue to engage in the abuse on her own. Secondly, since the system (and everyone else) is reluctant to call her on her bad behavior, she gets to engage in it completely unchecked and without any adverse consequences. Lastly, it’s an effective way to enhance her smear campaign against you. I’m sure that she is telling everyone that you are a dirtbag and will use your daughter’s actions towards you as “proof” of how much of a dirtbag you are.

          I’m not sure how much help this response is to you, but I believe that I understand what you are dealing with. I’m just not sure of what the solution is to this problem. Most of the proposed solutions that I have heard really have the wrong set of assumptions and fail because they don’t understand the problem. You’ll hear things like “Talk it out with your Ex. Just try to get along for the sake of the children. Try to do what is best for the children. Etc.” These attempts at co-parenting are fine for normal healthy people, but are a recipe for continued abuse when dealing with a BPD. I have also heard that the solution can be to completely remove the child from the abusive mother, but I don’t believe that the legal system has the stomach for this harsh of a solution. I haven’t found the system to be any help. Judges, social workers, and even many psychologists are slanted and predisposed to protect the children and the woman. Sadly, when the woman is the one engaging in the abuse, the system breaks down as it’s not structured to handle abuse emanating in this direction.

          • says

            Sorry to butt in here, but I wanted to comment on some of your remarks which are right on the money.

            It is true that the legal system for the most part does not have the stomach to remove a child from the parent he or she most closely identifies with, even though it’s a very unhealthy alliance. It’s also very, very difficult to prove alienation and there is a lot of controversy about the concept.

            I would like to mention one phenomenon that I have observed that helps perpetuate the alienation and allows it to succeed to the point of such disastrous and perhaps irreversible results. Many courts have non-disparagement orders in place that order parents in a divorce or custody fight not to speak negatively of the other parent to the children or in the children’s presence. It is also quite common for a court to have orders that the parents not discuss the litigation with the children.

            BPD/NPD’s, who are the likely perpetrators of alienation campaigns, are also the ones who are least likely to follow court orders. On the other hand, assuming the alienated parent is not personality disordered or otherwise impaired — he will be careful to follow the orders and will not speak badly of the children’s mother at all. In fact, he may even speak more positively about her than he actually feels because he recognizes the value of the children having good relationships with both parents. He might initially assume that his wife is following the orders also and may not know that he is being smeared and alienated.

            By the time he discovers he’s being smeared to his children (perhaps quite by accident) there’s likely already some damage done. Because he is ordered by the court not to talk to the kids about the case and because he is ordered not to disparage their mother, he keeps quiet, does not correct the lies their mother is telling them about him, and does not address their uncertainties and anxieties about the lawsuit — all the while the disordered mother continues to do exactly what she is ordered not to do, she smears Dad and can’t zip her mouth about the litigation. When talking to the children about it, she may well appear distraught and hysterical and overwrought.

            The kids believe her because the only information they are getting is the misinformation they’re getting from their mother, and indeed they may be getting saturated with a constant dialogue about how rotten their father is while painting herself as a victim of the legal process. Her agitation about it makes her tales of woe that much more believable to young malleable minds.

            In this manner, the alienation continues right under the nose of the judge, and most of the time Dad never even brings it up — often he thinks if he keeps behaving well and does everything right, in the end he’ll win. Sadly that is not how it usually goes.

            This is a perfect example of a disordered wife leveraging a husband’s decency against him. It seems women in this situation have an instinct that they can get away with it because they know that the husband won’t retaliate or tell the kids the truth of what is happening.

            Guys, if this is happening to you, you MUST bring it to the Court’s attention. It may very well be the case that the judge does not take it seriously or doesn’t know how to handle it. You may not have the experts lined up to prove the damage it’s doing to your kids, but there’s another important reason that you need to bring it out into the open — you need to be able to talk to your children about what is happening and you need to be able to counter the lies that are being told about you. Exposure and truth are the only way to begin to reverse this kind of indoctrination, and often it comes down to whether you can prove to your kids that they are being lied to — this is mind control, and your wife has gotten a head start.

            More than likely your kids will think you are the one who is lying if you say anything that is contrary to what their mother has said. if you do not bring this to the Court’s attention, you’re taking a big risk if you talk to your kids about what’s happening and start telling them the truth to counter the alienation. This is one more thing that could be used against you in court when your wife complains about YOU violating the court orders by talking to the kids and disparaging her.

            Finally, although we are speaking in this context of the mother being the alienating parent, this very sad phenomenon can be carried out equally effectively by either father or mother. I have seen it happen plenty of times on both sides. For me, it is the most disturbing, frustrating and heart-breaking aspect of family law.

          • TooLate27yrs says

            We have a consent order where, in addition to other things, we are prohibited from involving friends and family, and from disparaging each other in front of our kids. Nonsense, at least in NJ, the courts just don’t care, not even a slap on the wrist in the face of documentary evidence. They perceive this as the norm and to be expected in an “acrimonious” divorce. And that’s what my own attorney tells me, to get over it and move on. Not to big of deal for me as my kids are 16, 18 and 23 AND they know she is “psycho”. What my attorney has also told me is, “your friends will always believe you but, your enemies never will”. Not her own words but so very true. All of our friends are hers now and she continues to bad-mouth me to anyone who will listen. But I have always known of her need to tell EVERYONE, EVERYTHING, but now realize she can’t help it and there is nothing that I can say or do to stop it, not even a court order.

    • 3DShooter says

      Yes, you should always try and be the best dad you can be. You will fail at times though, everybody does – just don’t kick yourself to hard for it. When you sit down with them at the dinner table and out pops the question “Dad, did mom ruin you and crush you” it will be challenging. Then again when “Dad, how come your house is always clean and smells good” pops out of nowhere you will know you are on the right track.

  5. 3DShooter says

    I would also add that prior to the actual filing date all joint accounts be closed (credit card, checking, etc.). If these accounts are left open, your ex will use them without regard for the court order. I closed the checking account and my ex kept writing checks as if it was open – law enforcement wouldn’t stop her and the court was useless. If I hadn’t closed the account beforehand I would have been on the hook for all those bad checks.

  6. never again says

    I agree about not tipping your hand. I made a couple of false starts, and when I finally left, it was almost in a panic. Of course, it was impossible for me to say anything to my step-kids, primarily because my NPD was busy throwing my clothes out the door. Of course, later, she used the fact that I never said goodbye as an excuse to deny me access to the kids.

    • says

      never again (love your handle) —

      I’m sure sorry you had to go through that. The false starts are extremely common. It is almost tantamount to an addict trying to get the monkey off his back. From what I’ve seen, a good number of men “try” to leave several times before they are successful at getting out for real. There are so many factors that explain that — lack of support network, distorted thinking and inability to trust his own judgment, cunning and manipulation from the wife, fear of the unknown, and probably the biggest factor is that most men in this situation have no idea what they’re up against and do not have the knowledge or skillset yet to maintain the kind of boundaries necessary to disentangle themselves from the vortex that keeps sucking them back in. Sometimes an “unsuccessful” attempt to leave reinforces a man’s feelings of failure and convinces him further that he “just can’t” leave — as though he is physically unable to move his feet out the door. You can bet that each unsuccessful attempt will be met with more manipulation, abuse and control back home, making it that much more challenging .

      I’m so glad you got out and you’re here to share your experiences with others who are trying to do what you’ve done.

  7. Shobu says

    Great post!! I strongly agree with all the advice here; I didn’t follow 90% of it when I left my ex in early 2009 and ended up having to spend almost $50,000 and many hours inside courtrooms to get out of a very unhealthy marriage. These types of personalities in men and women both are bad news. Ms. Malonis is spot-on when she says you can’t out-think people like this. Once I was behind a few steps thanks to doing the opposite to a lot of these advice points, it was almost impossible to catch up, and this was after a relatively short term marriage (8 years) with no kids, so I couldn’t even begin to imagine the issues I would have had to deal with in more complex situations.
    The only piece of advice I could add to this post would be, not only should you get a lawyer first, but make sure they are a good *trial* lawyer. My lawyer had an excellent rep around the system for always preparing for the case to be a battle and is considered to be a “gladiator” (terms I heard from another lawyer, not mine 😉 These abilities in a trial setting are finally what got me extracted from what was turning into a prolonged legal fight over essentially nothing. Using a lawyer who is all about meditation will not work. Problem is, not all lawyers are considered good “trial lawyers”. Mine was, and was able to force a pre-trial settlement thanks to his excellent preparation as well as his reputation for being a real bulldog inside of a trial setting. Honestly, if I had followed the advice in this post, I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time and money having my lawyer deal with the fallout from me trying to initially be a “nice guy” with my ex.(as far as quality of life and mental health outcome, it was worth every cent)
    These type of personalities LOVE to fight. Get ready, get prepared, get a great trial lawyer, then get out.
    Good luck to all, and thanks for the great post!

  8. Shobu says

    I’d also like to add that, despite his reputation as a “bulldog” or “gladiator” inside the courtroom, he was a perfect gentleman to the opposing attorney (who said some pretty hideous lies about me in and out of court, probably thanks to my ex) as well as to my ex, and always took the “high road” in every situation or legal conundrum we ran across. I can’t thank him enough for his extreme ethical approach as well as positive attitude no matter how down I was. I also chose this lawyer because most of his clients, per his own admission are women, and a significant number have the “Cluster B” personalities described in this blog (again per his own admission, although he used different words to describe some of his more “irrational” clientele :)

  9. Aapeli says

    Since I am not married I am not divorcing. But I am considering breaking up with my long-time girlfriend because I think she has the NPD and living together with her has drained me of energy and joy.

    Any ways. One thing I’ve been thinking is that I should have used a video camera to record her when she starts attacking me. I think this should be juridically okay if the camera is visible to her as well and if she knows that she is being recorded. I have not done this but I think I should have done it. Now I don’t know whether I am going to bother any more.

    But the thing about this girlfriend, is that she seems to be so convinced that she is doing the right when she is attacking and criticising me that she could perhaps even let me record a video of her doing it because what can it hurt if she is doing the right thing? With people with such a twisted sense of her rights as she has this could actually pass.

    She justified hitting me in the head and upper torso with a pipe of a vacuum cleaner by saying she was motivating me. She justified other acts of violence and extreme anger towards me with the same reason, trying to motivate me.

    I have fallen into depression years ago because of her behaviour and because I could not understand to walk out when I was still healthy. Now I am depressed and I have trouble getting things done and her way to motivate me is the hit me in the head with a pipe. Her parents were there to witness her say that. I did tell her in front of her parents that that is totally crazy. But there was no apology from her. She seems convinced she doesn’t need to apologise.

    Well any ways, preparing for “leaving an abusife wife/gf” could involve recording videos of her having her rage ‘seizures’. It could happen with her knowledge because as I said these people, when they get into that certain state of mind, they could actually let it happen, because they are so convinced they are doing the right thing. They can regret it a few minutes later but in that certain state of mind they are very convinced they are totally right so they can’t be threatened with a video.

  10. ExpatDad says

    I realise this is primarily a pre-divorce discussion, but I would welcome discussion on how to handle PAS-type issues in the post-divorce months and years, i.e. in the interim whilst there are, for the time being, no suits in process, with a view to how to behave/gather information and evidence for a possible future court procedure.
    In particular, I’m faced with the (no doubt widespread) problem that my kids are young and impressionable enough to be “bought off” by my exwife, especially my son who’s 11 and who in the past three years has pretty much been bought whatever he wants… that’s principally what the child support gets spent on, meanwhile certain basic needs fall by the wayside, e.g. she has bought him no new winter coat in the intervening time. The upshot of all this is that because she is prepared to spoil the kids (whereas I am not – I should add I have about 40% time with them, comprised of 50% of the vacations and about 35% during school time), whilst subtly undermining their relationship with me, they, and my son in particular, drift towards her lifestyle and worldview (have what you want and to hell with the consequences…).
    Meanwhile, other issues I’ve had to contend with: she feeds them a very bad diet of a lot of junk food, little or no fresh fruit & veg – my son has gone from below average weight to borderline obese since the separation, and does not take enough exercise, largely due to my exwife’s inappropriate choice of location to live.
    She has repeatedly buys my son 15+ and 18+-rated computer/console games which he plays obsessively. He has a computer (with internet access) and Xbox/TV in his own bedroom, and she applies no limit whatsoever on screen time. My exwife dropped my daughter’s swimming lessons without consultation, claiming lack of funds, then proceeded to go on a long-haul vacation with the kids – she will not reinstate the lessons. Neither child is properly washed (their bodies, hair or even clothes), so it’s a massive undertaking each Wednesday evening/Thursday morning to get them ready for school in a state I consider presentable. My daughter forgets – and is not reminded – to brush her teeth or hair…. The list goes on. Basically my ex practises for the most part what I would call “vacuum parenting”, except when they bother her for stuff she buys them treats.
    I’m at a loss legally and psychologically, because they seem to be responding to the bad parenting – well, what child wouldn’t like to have no rules etc. with regard to computer games etc. and get loads of pocket money and lots of extra stuff bought – as opposed to my style with more rules, boundaries and fun, yes, but less often perhaps and maybe not always dictated by what they want when they want it. I know they need a more directive form of parenting to grow up to be responsible adults and in the meantime to get the best out of school – my son’s school performance is demonstrably suffering from the laisser-faire approach of his mother, but the dilemma is this: I am reliably informed that in my jurisdiction even if I did bring the matter back to court, the court would most likely hear my son’s opinion and consider his wishes and his “comfort” with his mother’s home as highly persuasive. They would be most unlikely indeed to actually have an investigation ordered into whether or not the parenting at the mother’s house is appropriate or not, is the relationship in fact healthy or not with appropriate boundaries etc. And even if the child protection agency were to be called in and they did identify problems at the mother’s home, the most likely course of action is that they would recommend a social worker to go around every now and then to ‘help’ the mother, and would recommend no change at all to the ‘contact arrangements’.
    Anyone else been in this type of situation?
    Is it even worth the energy to be bothered?
    Sometimes I feel like I’m still the mug when I do most of the mothering as well as the fathering in the limited time I have with them, but the children don’t appreciate it and still would rather the status quo of spending more time with her, where they have the money I earn spent on them, spoiling them by someone who is called their mother. Of course I do it out of unconditional love, but it is difficult to switch off the part that is desparately concerned for their welfare and every time they are with me sees a little part more of their future potential being whittled away by the infectious narcissism of their mother, that goes unchecked by the blinkered family law system.

  11. TooLate27yrs says

    My soon to be X BPD/NPD filed for div, not me. She hired a “collaborative attorney” to do it the “nice way”, as she put it. All that changed at our first and only joint meeting when all I did was present information on how the economy had affected my practice. I didn’t dispute her forensic accountant’s figures; I just wanted them to consider the information. They looked at it very casually and that was that. She then stated that she wanted to stay in the house with my children (15 & 17 at the time)without me. I stated that I wanted to stay in the house too, with or without her. I then made the mistake of saying, “I know, lets let them decide who they want to live with”, since we both knew they would chose me. At the end, my attorney asked them if we were all going to sign and continue collaboratively and my wife said she would let us know. That very same day she sends an email to my 22yo daughter, who no longer resides with us, saying, “your father walked into the meeting with an attitude, called me names, threatened that I wouldn’t get the alimony I was entitled to and threatened to take my children away from her”. One week later she hired a “shark” and they filed for divorce.

  12. rufus says

    We just had another big fight, and I thought I might just go to the police to give them a heads up as she has threatened to make false DV accusations against me if I leave her, so I looked up “Domestic Violence Prosecutions Victoria Australia”, and look what I found:


    Under ‘Final Report—Family Violence Myths’, they actually went out of their way to say that men are more likely to be violent in DV cases.


  13. Mellaril says

    If you can find alternative living arrangements that she doesn’t know about, or even if she does, you can use Craigslist to furnish the place for free. Set up an alternate email account and search on Ikea in the Free section. Depending on the size of your zone, you can probably grab at least a bed, if not come close to furnishing the place.

    Best of all, no pesky transactions to tip off your intent.

  14. bryanj says

    my abusive(verbal and physical) common law spouse of 4 years, is now 9 month pregnant with my child, she threatens adoption and everything else under the sun on a daily basis, i also have a 6 year old step son that is hers, ive been his dad since he was 2, she has obvious mental/depression problems as well as total entitlement and control issues. every piece of furniture in this house is not ours/borrowed at my responsibility, and she has already broken stuff in her fits, in an abusive relationship as such , what are the chances of having her removed, and how to i get custody of my child when born or keep her from being adopted??

  15. doug145 says

    At least in Virginia, you have to move out first before you can do anything at all legally. You have to live apart for 1 year before your lawyer files the divorce papers.

  16. westernstar says

    Older comments here, but helpful none the less. I have a wife who ridiclues me all the time, turns on a dime from happy to extreme anger, and always tries to separate me from my friends, telling me that they do not have my interests at heart and look down at me. Recently, she went over the top in a huge rage all night long (kept telling me it was my fault as I made her angry. Not the case). During this rage she stated that one of us would die that night. Later, she made the comment that she would take the both of us down in a big way, and it would be famous and for the whole world to see. Needless to say, I am now going to file for divorce, no one can live under that fear. Yes, she did threaten to call the cops and tell them I was herting her (never even touched or threatened her, and caught most of it on my cell phone to prove it). She was kicking furniture, the dog and hitting herself in the chest. All I could say was , wow.
    Twelve years of marriage and this is where I am ending up. I have suggested that perhaps she might want to see someone about this, only to be told that if I was a good husband, I would just stand by her and learn not to make her angry.
    Thanks for the article, it really helped me understand more that I have to do this. It is going to be hard, but it must be done.

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