Personality Disorder Diagnoses in Family and Divorce Court: Pros and Cons

DiagnosisRecently, I received an email asking about the significance of an actual personality disorder diagnosis in a divorce or custody case:

How helpful are psych evaluations in custody and divorce cases? Does it matter if you can get a personality disorder diagnosis, or is it ultimately irrelevant—unless it’s accompanied by severe acting out (e.g., hitting the kids, drugs, arrests, suicide attempts, etc.)?

The short answer to the question is: It depends, but with or without a diagnosis, it is critical that the Judge be informed of the disordered behaviors in detail.


1. No-fault divorce. The disordered behaviors are typically much more relevant in the context of a child custody case, as opposed to a divorce without minor children. Although jurisdictions vary in terms of the grounds for divorce and the extent to which “fault” influences a property division, the trend is towards “no-fault” divorce, which translates roughly to an equal division of property as a starting point. Most, if not all, people who are in the middle of a divorce could make a long list of their spouse’s faults and deficiencies. Presumably, there’s been some bad behavior on all sides. Judges know this and they have heard it all. Therefore, most judges, in my experience, tend not to be too persuaded by tales of misbehavior when it comes time to divide property.

There are exceptions, however.

2. Impact on marital property division. If there has been a pattern of severe physical abuse, that is a circumstance that could influence the Judge to award a disproportionate share of property to the victim spouse. This happens very rarely as far as I have seen.

If one spouse has been a serial cheater the whole marriage while the other spouse made a lot of sacrifices for the marriage, that could also affect a property division. If one spouse squandered marital property or ran up an unreasonable amount of debt because of a gambling habit . . . you get the idea. Really bad behaviors towards one’s spouse could give a judge a reason to give a disproportionate award of marital property, but this is not common, at least in the jurisdiction in which I practice.

Child Custody Determinations

1. Cluster B behaviors are relevant. In a custody battle, abusive Cluster B behaviors are very relevant to the decision of which parent should be the children’s primary caretaker. Up until very recently, custody was nearly almost always automatically awarded to the mother, irrespective of her behavior. Overall, there  is still a bias in favor of mothers, but it’s not as automatic as it once was.

In my practice, I see a fairly even split between mothers and fathers being awarded primary custody. While there are many other factors  that influence a custody determination, including the age of the child, the child’s preference, special needs, parents’ work schedules, flexibility, and a parent’s willingness and ability to work jointly with the other parent, the determining factor typically comes down to the bad behaviors of the parents.

2. Proving your case (with or without a psychological evaluation). If your children’s mother has a variety of Cluster B traits, then there is likely plenty of bad behavior that you’ll want to make known to the Judge. The problem is, evidence of bad Cluster B behavior is too often left to a He-Said-She-Said presentation in court. That simply won’t work!

If  your kids’ mother exhibits Cluster B behaviors, you absolutely must document them as they happen, save every email and text message, record phone conversations, if that is legal in your jurisdiction (check your laws or speak with an attorney), and always have another person with you when you have to interact with her face to face so you can call that person as a witness to testify about outrageous behaviors witnessed.

3. Psychological evaluations: a double-edged sword. Aside from documenting, recording, and having witnesses to your interactions, you may wonder also if a psychological examination is your key to proving what a crazy ***** your wife/ex-wife is. If her psychological functioning is an issue in a custody battle, you can almost certainly have a psychological evaluation ordered by he court (you will probably also have to submit to one).

Psychological evaluations can be a double-edged sword. First and foremost, I would caution you guys that you should never expect an outright diagnosis of a personality disorder from a court ordered psychological evaluation. Very, very rarely is a diagnosis of PD given as the result of a court-ordered psychological evaluation.

This may be because the criteria for the diagnosis are not very well defined, and there’s also an unstated presumption that people are always a little crazy when they’re involved in that kind of litigation. Additionally, there seems to be a  pretty pervasive reluctance for professionals to use those labels even when they’re warranted. More typically, the evaluator might say that someone exhibits borderline “traits” or narcissistic “traits,” if they even go that far.

If you are relying on a psychological evaluation to prove your ex is “crazy,” you’re likely setting yourself up for defeat. Without solid proof of the bad behaviors, the psychological evaluation could actually hurt your case. If you have an evaluator who either doesn’t find a personality disorder or is reluctant to label it as such for the reasons discussed above, then you end up with a psychological evaluation that seemingly portrays your crazy ex as mentally and behaviorally stable and healthy. There goes your whole case.

Even if a psychologist does give an actual diagnosis of a personality disorder, in and of itself that is pretty meaningless to a Judge. You are going to have to tie the diagnosis to the particular conduct that has caused problems and you’ll need to have your own expert to testify that the history of these behaviors reliably predicts that the behaviors will continue into the future, thus putting your kids at risk if they are left in her primary care.

4. Paint a complete picture for the Judge. The fact is, the diagnosis is not really important. It’s the behaviors themselves that are important. The behaviors do not have to be as extreme as hitting the kids or severe neglect in order for a Judge to be influenced. If a stable and pervasive pattern of the bad behaviors is proven, that’s what matters and that’s what will make an impression on the Judge, even if  the individual behaviors are not that significant on their own. The reason it’s important to have a psych expert at trial is not so much to interpret or reveal test results, but to put this pattern of bad behavior in context and give a professional opinion about the effect it will have on the kids.

Consider this example: If you have a mother who forgets to pick up her kids from school fairly regularly and the school has to call Dad to come get them; and Mom sends the kids to school without lunches and with dirty or ill-fitting clothes; and Mom can’t get them to school on time pretty regularly; and doesn’t go to their football games or dance recitals; and breaks promises and leaves the kids disappointed; and refuses to allow any flexibility in scheduling Dad’s time with kids; and talks bad about Dad to the kids; and “forgets” to tell Dad about doctor appointments; and leaves kids at home while she goes out drinking; and moves three times in one year; and refuses to get a job; and doesn’t monitor homework or make sure the kids are prepared for school; and introduces the kids to a new “serious” boyfriend every other week (allowing the kids to get attached to someone they’ll never see again after week 3); and so on and so forth.

Any of these behaviors in isolation may not be enough to persuade a judge to change custody, but when you add them together, you get a whole way of behaving across the spectrum that’s harmful to the kids. Whether you call it “irresponsibility” or “borderline personality disorder,” an expert will be able to describe the predictable effect these behaviors will have on the child’s emotional development if it is allowed to continue.

A Judge will recognize the pattern as one of instability, which equates to harm for the child.

Check Yourself

A word of caution about psychological evaluations: if the Judge orders her to undergo an evaluation, he will more than likely order you to undergo an evaluation as well. No problem, you say? Think again. If you have been terrorized by an abusive wife for years, it has affected you. You have had to develop some kind of coping strategy just to get by; your thinking has likely become distorted; and you may have lost perspective about what “normal” really is. Maybe you’ve even developed a complex stress disorder as a consequence of the hell you’ve lived through—it’s not uncommon. You’re getting healthier now, but it takes time to recover from repeated trauma.

There’s no telling how this may reflect in a standardized psychological battery of tests, but the standardized test won’t tell the real tale or apportion responsibility and it won’t tell the judge that your psychological functioning is understandable and even predictable in view of the extreme treatment you’ve been subjected to. In this manner, court-ordered psych evaluations for both parents might be more harmful to your case.

In addition, “normal” people do not react well to the stress of ongoing litigation. Sometimes the litigation compounds or even causes a PTSD-like response. But HCP’s enjoy and thrive on the conflict — while you’re crumbling, your ex is in her element and cool as a cucumber. These unfortunate realities could very well reflect poorly on you and favorably on your crazy ex on a standardized psychological test.

For these reasons, you should be very cautious and deliberate about a request that the Judge order psych evaluations.

Bottom Line

1. A diagnosed personality disorder will likely have little or no impact on a divorce without minor children.

2. In child custody litigation, Cluster B behaviors are relevant and must be proven with evidence supporting your testimony (e.g., journals, recordings, emails, phone logs, text messages, other witnesses, etc.)

3. Psychological evaluations are risky and could end up hurting your case.

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  1. Cousin Dave says

    Natalie, that’s an interesting writeup, and you bring up a lot of good points. Question: what do you do if *she* demands psychological evaluations? If you have been under severe stress, you may very well come up with any number of abnormal indications, as you point out. Meanwhile, she will probably be able to hold it together for a one-hour session with a possibly sympathetic therapist — Cluster B’s usually can when they know it’s important. It’s quite possible that she comes out smelling like a rose, while you get dinged by the evaluator.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      Hi Cousin Dave,

      I’m going to chime in here. Natalie, please let me know if the suggestion I’m about to give is accurate.

      If you’ve been in a relationship like this, you need support. You have healing that you need to do. Once the divorce process starts, many men have so many things to do and everything seems to be swirling around them all at once and they tell themselves, “I’ll see a shrink/get support AFTER the divorce.”

      I think it’s incredibly important for men who are divorcing HCPs/APDIs to get support before filing and during the divorce (cost is often an issue, but many therapists offer sliding scales—even if you only go every other week or once a month, go).

      Why is it important?

      1) You can use the support.
      2) A therapist can document the abuses you suffered in your marriage and the subsequent stress and trauma you suffered.
      3) Your therapist will hopefully be able to provide the context for a court evaluator who tries to screw you over by portraying you as having anger/high levels of stress. A good therapist can write a report in response to such an evaluation that basically says, “No sh*t, Sherlock. My client was being abused. Abuse causes trauma. Duh.” Using appropriate psychological terms, of course. ;^)
      4) It will show the judge that you are sincerely working on getting help to be a healthy parent.
      5) Your therapist can provide reports to the evaluator before the evaluation process begins.

      At least, this is my rationale. Natalie, please let me know if I’m in error.

      • thewanderer says

        Very nice! You hit it right on the head. Or is nice to see I am hitting it on the head as well after reading everything you have mentioned above. I’ve been telling my wife that is going through a custody battle with a diagnosed Bi-polar, troubled man, who spends every second of everyday of his life attempting to make her’s miserable, This is after being divorced for 7 years, somewhat peacefully. But began when she took legal action to receive the 65K he owed her in child support. She is a very intelligent, career oriented woman who only wants what makes her daughter happy. This man has managed to get her arrested when he started an altercation at the child’s school, and 100% totally lied and said she trashed his car, with the kid in the car, and and me standing right there. This obviously leading to a refrain from OOP. Every single day he is supposed to drop her home he blatantly disobeys the court order and doesnt, makes up lies and tries to make her look like the unfit parent. The sad part is that this guy has gotten away with absolute ridiculousness for a year now, making my wife losing all faith in the justice system. And hope in general. But I have been saying to her every single day all the things you outlined above, telling her these things are tricky and take time, and that he will F*#k himself anyway because he has been getting away with reckless behavior. And what do you know???? Things are finally turning in her favor because she has been doing every single thing you listed above for the last 6 months. Everyone that wouldn’t believe her or just wasn’t in a position to just take custody away from this guy, as that is not easy to do, are starting to see she what she is dealing with and he is just bury himself more and more as the days go on.. What helped the most to turn the tides was counseling for her and her daughter, and keeping a journal of every single thing (what her daughter tells her this guy does when with him, not allowing her to speak to her daughter when shes with this POS. This gys is so crazy and has gotten away with things for so long that people because people would never want to believe someone with a heart or a soul could poosible do these things to his little daughter.

        Long story short, it’s reassuring to see the information I have been reiterating on a regular basis apparently has some merit

  2. says

    Right on the money Dr T. To add to that, I would also suggest that you do your research and select a counselor who has experience with these particular issues. It is critical that you get the support you need, and it will also be necessary to counter the string of witnesses your ex will ensnare in her web of deceit — these might include teachers, social workers, doctors, etc.

    • Cousin Dave says

      Dr. T and Natalie, thank you for the advice. Fortunately, I don’t think I will be needing it anytime soon. But I thought the question was worth asking.

  3. RecoveredAlpha says

    Hi Everybody

    Let me offer my experiences here. A bit of background info then my “advice” from experience.

    My ex-w is without a doubt a full fledged BPD. That said, I lived with her for 18 years. I’ve read in literature that only someone with a bit of NPD can make it that long with a BPD. So, yup, I’ve got a bit of the narc tendencies. The nice thing is — at least from what I’ve read — NPD can be cured or reduced and often is with age whereas BPD is very resistive to treatment and often gets worse with age. My own 2 cents here: to SURVIVE living with a BPD a man must start BLOWING HIS OWN HORN (e.g., narc traits) otherwise you’ll have no self-esteem left. My ex beat me down anytime and even when she did bad things I’d end up being the villian and her the victim.

    We have 4 boys. At time of divorce, aged 2, 6, 11, and 14 years old. The older two after splitting summer of ’09 with her 50% and me 50% (I had moved out of family home) said they weren’t living with her again. [A little aside here. Just this past Wednesday night my two older boys — who I have 100% physical custody as they’ve spent ONE NIGHT with their Mom in 19 months and she lives 0.6 miles south of my home — came home after going out to dinner with their Mom and said, “Dad is it ok if we spend the night at Mom’s?” I said, “Sure.” wondering what happened with this. I liked the night off. IT WAS HEAVEN. The next morning I was sleeping in — usually get up 4 am walk on treadmill and go lift weights but was so relaxed not having ANY KIDS TO WATCH — and I heard the two older walk in the kitchen around 630 AM. One of them (not sure as both boy’s voicebox has dropped to deep pitch) said, “NEVER AGAIN!” very emphatically. I groaned internally. Something happened over there. They wouldn’t say much and I didn’t push it, but they aren’t going back to their Mom’s “ever” for spending a night.

    My point here is that if the ex really is f**ked up, as the kids get older they’ll KNOW. You don’t have to do anything.

    However for little ones that’s tougher.

    My ex and I have been divorced about 1 year now. I have 2 older boys 100% and we share the 2 younger boys 50%. In my case, while divorce was ongoing the older boys didn’t want to go with their Mom. She complained in court. So the judge order a pysche evaluation for all 4 of us (e.g., Dad, Mom, and two older boys) “to find out what’s going on.” And the judge very sternly said, “Whatever that evaluation says is what I’ll go by; it will be MY eyes and ears.”

    So the pysche eval had my ex and I in the same room in opposite corners facing the center where the male pscychologist sat. He said he had to do this because my ex-W had placed a Total Restraining Order on me. He told us not to look at each other nor speak the other’s name directly. (Funny thing my ex constanly looked at me and said “My Husband” or my name repeated; I did nothing like that.) Basically he asked a bunch of questions. It took maybe 90 minutes. BEFORE HE SAW EITHER OF US, he first interviewed my two older boys for at least an hour. At the end of my ex-W and my eval, the pyschologist said she could go first then came and sat by me. He said “has she exhibited much more masculine tendencies etc lately”. He was probing if she was on testosterone as she was a Figure/Bodybuilding competitor. She must have said something to tip his curiosity.

    Anyway the report that came out completely eviserated her. It was 7 pages. The summary said something like “Mother is emotionally challenged as a parent.” And elsewhere explicitly laid out instances where she had locked up the 2 yo in the bedroom for HOURS and left the house to go out (bar or workout). There were other things too. All bad for her. I don’t recall in the evaluation all the things she said, but I remember FEELING cringing when she would say things that completely indicted her on being a horrible Mom — funny thing I don’t think she even knew those things were damning her.

    What if VERY telling is that some time before the evaluation occured, she said to me “If you don’t bring up my bad mothering skills, I won’t bring up XYZ on you.” (I don’t want to say XYZ. It isn’t illegal but is some dirt on me.) What was weird is that SHE ADMITTED SHE HAD BAD MOTHERING SKILLS AND TRIED TO BARGAIN WITH ME NOT TO REVEAL THEM!?!?!?!? I told my lawyer about it (including XYZ) and he very seriously said, “Next time she tries that you tell her we will bring extortion charges against her.” She DID try again and when I said that it looked like Zeus had thrown a thunderbolt at her and she never brought it up again.

    During the mediation (we settled “out of court” but it was really in court with a Pro Tem judge advocate) my lawyer whenever the other lawyer or my ex-W would start demanding things we didn’t want to agree to he would hold that 7 page report up and boldly say, “We’ll just go by this IN COURT.” which the other party would then always back down. It was hilarious.

    So if you get a good pysche evaluation in your favor it can be HUGE bonus during arbitration. In my state, the judge nearly ALWAYS heavily sides with the custodial parent and that report basically gave me custody. It spelled out 100% custody for the older two and 50% custody for the younger. But my lawyer said, “If you want 100% custody of those four boys, you can have based on the details in that report.” Alas, I sadly admit now that I didn’t ask for 100% custody of all 4. For two reasons: (1) I couldn’t do it, or at least didn’t think I could manage my R&D job and night college instructor PLUS raise four boys including a 2 and 6 year old! Scared me. In retrospect, maybe I should have asked for all four. But my oldest son says, “Dad. Don’t worry. When those two younger ones get around 10 or 11 they’ll be over here all the time!” (2) At the time, I asked the 6 year old if wanted to regularly see him “Mommy” and he cried and said, “Yes”. Also the 2 year old would sometimes (would break my heart — but I know that age goes naturally with Mom — hey! look at the ancient Spartans they didn’t take the boys from their Moms for mandatory military training until 7 years old) go to the door of the rental house late at night and point out the door “Momma” “Momma” over and over. He wanted to go to Mamma’s. So FOR THEIR SAKE, I didn’t fight for custody of the two little ones.

    Sometimes I wonder if that was a smart idea. The daycare workers tell me sometimes the littlest one will come with his Mom IN WINTER with no coat no socks no shoes and she’ll say “I gave him a few nuts for dinner so he might be a bit hungry this morning.” WTF?! The daycare workers say to me, “She’s a minimalist mother. She does the bare minimum possible for those two boys.” SO I guess YES she is PD, but never diagnosed. However the pysche evaluation in our court case documented HER BEHAVIORS which damned her.

    So you don’t need a PD diagnosis. Just get the f**ked up behaviors legally documented and THREATEN them to the other party to go to court. In my case that was enough for the ex to stop her high-conflict “I’m going to take him to the cleaners” routine and settle quickly for a reasonable 50% split. I got house and kids. I paid her 1 lump sum alimony. SHE PAYS ME MONTHLY CHILD SUPPORT.

    Looking back, the pysche evaluation in my case WAS A HUGE factor in getting our divorce to close in 10 months from filing date (end of May 2009 and finished early March 2010) and keeping me from losing all my assets. Plus I have the biggest validation of all: MY TEEN BOYS CHOSE TO LIVE WITH ME 100% ON THEIR OWN which speaks volumes. Everyone who I casually discuss this with always say something to the effect “Wow. That is rare and very odd. The kids usually side with the mother.”

    I think that just shows the my ex-W DOES have a PD. But we didn’t need an official diagnosis — only needed good documentation of her f**ked up behaviors.

    That was my experience with PD in court and pyschology evaluations. I was lucky to have a professional who seemed to realize the ex-W was the messed up one without any empathy and that I was the better parent. He told me that after the interview after dismissing her, “You’re doing great. Those boys really look up to you.”

    The biggest compliment I guess just recently was said to me by my oldest son. He said, “You know Dad this place has become a ‘safe house’ to all my and my brother’s friends from divorced families. They come here because they feel safe.” [I’m not that emotional of a guy, but that teared me up.]

    One downside of having the custody — I HAVE FOUND LITTLE TIME TO START DATING. Housecleaning and laundry and cooking/cleaning and yard work and pool maintenance PLUS my bodybuilding hobby and R&D jobs. I look at my ex: she has NO KIDS 50% of the week and 2 little ones 50%. She’s already in a serious relationship with a guy. I’ve barely started dating. Where do I bring my date? To a house full of teen and younger boys? Something I’m still working on. Plus my fear is “What woman want’s to deal with FOUR boys?”

    • JPJ says

      Hi there Recovered.Don`t worry about dating right now.Take some time for you and get back on track.You have been through alot.You might find an Angelina Joli who loves lots of kids…….get into your own Brady Bunch family situation….
      You have fought long and hard for your kids.Now enjoy them while you can because they will be grown up sooner than you think.
      When the really good women see how you treat your kids….they will start lining up at your front door!!!

    • InspiredDad says

      I know this thread is old but It has given me hope. I didn’t find out about my exs’ PD until “conception” when she snapped and prevented me from exiting her while grunting in my ear “your gonna give me this MF baby”, I felt used and of course it didn’t get better.

      At least I know a psych eval is relevant.
      Thank you so much

    • marriedsatan says

      Replying to old post, but whatever…

      After all this, why would you WANT to ever date again?!?!

      I just want some fucking peace and quiet! Dating and getting into another relationship sounds horrible. Never worth the risk. Even if the partner is normal and well-adjusted. How can one ever really know?!

      I want to spend as much quality time with my boys as I can, do my work, do cool stuff, and that’s it. I don’t need relationship drama, even of the normal variety. Fuck that.

  4. RecoveredAlpha says

    One other humorous addition. In that 7 page small font report, the psychologist said “After detailed review of this case there are serious doubts about the veracity of the claims by Mother that she needed a T.R.O. on Father. The older boys state that Mom regularly exaggerates and lies about things and that they believe that Dad did nothing to warrant a T.R.O.” HA HA HA

    In this case, the T.R.O. blew up in her face in court, basically showing SHE was a liar.

    • says

      You got lucky. You apparently had a good evaluator who took his role seriously and considered everything within the context of the children’s interests. I have found that to be the exception rather than the rule.

      More often, evaluators rely too heavily on MMPI scores without considering the data contextually. There are studies and reports about MMPI scores among child custody litigants, and it has been reliably shown that custody litigants test differently than people who are not in the middle of battling for custody. Not only do they test differently, they test differently in the same way — they are defensive and reluctant to admit minor faults, among other differences that I now forget. But most psych evaluators don’t even consider that.

      As far as dating, the day will come when those boys are gone off to college or married themselves, and you’ll probably have too much time on your hands — including plenty of time for dating.

    • SineNomine says

      RecoveredAlpha, it sounds like you seriously dodged a bullet there. You were extremely lucky to have sons with good heads on their shoulders and who weren’t susceptible to manipulation by their mother. I’m very happy for you that it worked out as well as it did. A lot of men in your shoes aren’t anywhere near as fortunate, as we’re finding out more and more.

      Looking back on that situation, do you have any practical advice or things you did which ended up serving you and your children well, that you would like to share?

  5. Verbal says

    I think the attitude of most judges is going to be, “Diagnosis, shmiagnosis. Tell me about actual behavior.”

    So you have to go about proving that your spouse behaved in a certain way. This can be very problematic. If your Cluster B is high functioning, then they usually only show their true colors behind closed doors. So you don’t have eyewitnesses to corroborate your assertions.

    Document their behavior? I used to keep a log of her violence, but what stops her from telling the judge, “He made all that stuff up. I never did any of that.”

    Audio or video recorded evidence? Obviously, you have to obtain this without your spouse’s knowledge, because even they have the good sense not to “perform for the camera”, because their greatest fear is to be outed. It is a dicey proposition that the judge will even allow recorded evidence obtained without the subject’s knowledge.

    So as far as “proving” your spouses behavior, we have… nothing.

    We’re screwed.

    • says

      Verbal —

      Usually a Cluster B has so little insight and so little control over their behavior that the outrageous behaviors “leak” from behind closed doors. Are there no outrageous text messages sent at 3:00 AM or threatening, inappropriate emails? No one else has witnessed her bad behavior?

      It’s true that exposure seems to be one of the HCP’s biggest fear, but I’ve never known one to be able to keep their dysfunctions completely hidden. They also lie a lot as a general rule. This is a good reason for taking a deposition in advance of trial. You can use the deposition to catch her in lies when she contradicts herself at trial. This will undermine her entire testimony, and then you are better positioned to testify yourself about her extreme conduct — her denials will be heard with suspicion because she has already been shown to be a liar.

      • Cousin Dave says

        Natalie, I have known a few high-functioning narcs who were very, very good at keeping up a front. The trick is to catch them in a situation where they think they can let their hair down. My BPD ex had a friend who was very good at giving the impression of being a meek, mild-mannered woman. But take her to a bar and put just one drink into her, and she turned into a flaming ball of unlimited anger. I was stunned the first time I saw it happen — it almost didn’t seem like the same person. But after a while I realized what it was: it was the mask slipping and exposing her true self. My ex told me once that before I met her, she had had to bail this friend out once after she got into a fight with another woman at a bar.

        If, say, that ex’s friend had been my wife, I would have made it a point to take her out to a bar and then follow her around surreptitiously follow her around taking video with a cell phone. The convenient thing about that would be that, since it’s a public place, there is no privacy concern with taking video.

        • says

          Well, sociopaths take great pains to keep the mask in place, and they can fool virtually anyone for extended periods of time — but there’s always that weakness that will bring out the beast.

          In your ex’s friend’s case, it was liquor. Yes, the trick is discovering where the weakness is, but you guys who have been living with these women for years probably know the hot buttons … and the value of private investigators should not be underestimated in cases like this.

          As an aside, it is usually a spectacle to have these folks on the witness stand, and I have found that they cannot maintain the facade when they are on the spot like that and under oath. They will frequently and boldly contradict themselves as they try to weave lies on the fly. They will typically do everything possible to keep from having to take the witness stand, but that is exactly where a good attorney will want them to be.

          • Cousin Dave says

            Very interesting, Natalie. I have to admit I’m a bit surprised that so many of them lose it on the witness stand. Maybe too much stress? Perhaps they go so concerned about keeping their lies straight that they lose track of them? Sounds like it would be amusing if it wasn’t so pathetic.

      • exscapegoat says

        Well, the problem is when they let the mask slip in front of witnesses, it tends to be in front of the enablers and apologists. My stepfather and my brother have seen my likely NPD mother rage at me. Yet, when I set some reasonable boundaries, they both turned on me eventually. I know I couldn’t rely upon them for court testimony if that were needed. Though obviously my situation’s different, as it’s a parent, not a SO. In public, she acts sickeningly sweet, she would try to hold my hand, say how glad she was to see her daughter, etc. She did lose it in public at me a few times in my teens, but it was rare and no one ever said anything or did anything but stare at us. Then again, it was the late 70s/early 80s, maybe things are different now.

        What I’m coming to terms with in therapy is that my mother’s image of being a good mother is more important to her, her enablers and her apologists than having any relationship with me. I can be a part of the family, but only at the cost of taking her crap on a regular basis. Which is too high of a price for me. I’m focusing on continuing to develop my family of choice (some extended family & close friends).

  6. Mellaril says

    Several years ago I was tasked with setting up a program to protect a sector of critical infrastructure from an insider threat. One aspect of this was what, if any, psyschological testing/screening would identify potential insiders. I was primarily looking at APDs but when it comes to insiders, who’s more on the inside than somebody you’re sleeping with? I consulted several behavioral and clinical psychologists with pretty heavy credentials in this area and the three things I came away with were:

    (1) The person who was making the assessment had to know what they were looking for. One of the heavy hitters I consulted said he could look at an MMPI-II score and tell from the answers to only a few questions if the individual had areas of concern.

    (2) The assessment instrument had to be appropriate. He said he could work with an MMPI-II score but he wasn’t a big fan of the MMPI-II. He preferred the PAI and PCL-R better.

    (3) Any tests, no matter what the scores, had to be followed up with a semi-structured interview. In his opinion, basing an assessment solely on test scores was useless.

      • Closure at last says

        “In other words the evaluator has to really care about what he is tasked to do, and I have found that is rarely the case, unfortunately.” – Ms. Malonis.
        “Your therapist will hopefully be able to provide the context for a court evaluator who tries to screw you over by portraying you as having anger/high levels of stress.” – Dr T in her first comment above.

        I am going to take the risk and let something be known on this board (and Dr. T – I’ll request you to delete this comment if the person whose ‘inside information’ I’m writing here finds out I’m writing on this board and harasses me in the future.) What both of you have written, and Ms. Malonis’ reiteration – of the chances of getting a good evaluator being low – is quite true. I say this based on the fact that the APD who drove me nearly insane with his constant idealization-devaluation cycle and mind-blowing verbal put-downs and emotional and mental abuse and control for over a year, a few years back – IS in fact a professional court evaluator! (We had met at a gallery and were dating for a while and he showed clear signs of NPD and BPD (minus the suicide threats) and had even confessed that he became a psychiatrist to solve his own problems! I didn’t know of PDs then – but it was his bizarre behavior that finally got me to seek answers and landed me on Shari Screiber’s and Dr. Tara’s site. So basically – your evaluator himself/herself might have a PD. How scary is that?

        Also this psycho shrink during one rage episode where I was cowering in fear at his put-downs, yelled out at me that my ‘Aspie’ traits, stoicism and logic, were “incredibly disgustingly frustrating” to him, and he missed the vulnerability and rescue-me-lines of the girls he had dated (who i later understood had BPD) although he would constantly complain how all his exes had mistreated him and how kind and rational I was. (which of course had only made me work harder back then.) It was also this incident and others’ faced by my engineer buddies by their partners that made me realize that yes – maybe NPDs attract BPDs BUT – so do those with aspie and schizoid traits (aka geeks and the introverted quiet types) and the latter suffer and “keep trying harder, keep problem-solving” the most. Even more horrible – a year after we’d stopped contact – I read, in fact the world read – since the news was everywhere – on the BBC, the Guardian, on Huff Post, on CNN – that the mentor, the reference giver, the ‘beloved’ professor and family friend of this crazed court evaluator I’d briefly dated was none other than a famous and now infamous court forensic evaluator – now known as Dr. Shock – a.k.a Aubrey Levin (google the name and his misdeeds are all over.)

        So though I have no court or therapy experience – purely by this personal experience – I think both Dr. T and Ms. Malonis are spot-on in their advice. Document the behaviour, and get therapy yourself – because who knows? Your court evaluator himself might have a PD and be very sympathetic towards Cluster B women.

        I can also write later how lightly he took his duties and what he wrote to me once about his job – but not here, as that would be a breach of privacy, i guess, so I won’t. I do think ‘recovering alpha’ got very lucky – and also had his sons to back him up – but i don’t think this is usually the case. Oftentimes the evaluator just takes it as a light job and may not have your best interests in mind unlike your own personal therapist.

        • says

          That’s frightening, but it’s a good lesson.

          PD’s are everywhere, in every profession. In my opinion, it is foolish to leave your fate and your children’s fate in the hands of a court-appointed evaluator who may or may not be worth a damn, and who may be disordered himself or biased or lazy or …..

          • Mellaril says

            It would appear then that the people who need the services of a competent, objective evaluator run the risk of encountering precisely the opposite. A person who’s in a chaotic and bewildering situation such as this is already under a lot of stress. If they have no ezperience with PDs, they have little choice but to trust the advice of the people they hire as advocates.

            As an attorney, how would you assess the competence and credibility of a therapist in a situation like this? Do you view them as you would any other expert witness?

            A broader question, probably more in Dr. T’s line, is how would anybody evaluate a potential therapist/evaluator?

          • says

            Most people who are going through this for the first tome will naturally trust the experts and trust the process. It’s only when a person has been re-victimized and re-traumatized by the legal system that they realize how lacking the process is.

            Generally speakimg, whether you’re selecting an attorney or a psychologist or any professional in connection with litigation with a high conflict person, pay attention to reputation and the professional’s history in handling cases involving HCP’s. Some will “get it”, many won’t. You may have to interview many professionals before you find a good fit. If you find an attorney who is experienced in this area, the attorney should be able to direct you to other helpful professionals.

            As a starting point, you may want to visit the web page of the high conflict institute (?) that Bill Eddy is associated with. I believe they have a state by state resource directory with lists of therapists and attorneys.

          • Resilience says

            I am getting a lot out of this article and discussion. Thank you. I know exactly what you’re talking about when you talk about the masks – the facade. My husband wears it well.

            I’m a WOMAN married 25+ years to a high-ranking military attorney whose sexual addiction I discovered approximately 3 years ago. Attempts at couples counseling and subsequent filing for divorce have brought out his PD. I have learned that porn and prostitute addicts often have a combination of NPD, obsessive compulsive, and bipolar disorder. I see these things now, and wonder how I managed for so many years to simply accept it.

            I’ve been trying to get a divorce for about 18 months. I say trying because he is dragging it out. I naively thought after I discovered his 10+ YEARS of infidelity and staggering internet porn trail, he would quietly and generously divorce me. I have been shocked to discover that his reaction is to blame me for “causing” his addictions and to “punish” me for leaving. He so far has managed to string me along with a loosey-goosey verbal financial agreement because he has lied about his income and simply not responded to proposed settlement and custody agreements. I have been in limbo for such a long time! The attorneys and the court don’t seem to “get” how he is manipulating this (once again) to his financial advantage and the disadvantage of me and the kids. I had to file with the Divorce Master because he simply would not make any move to negotiate.

            I’ve been an at home mother for over 20 years. Five kids, the oldest just graduated from college. The youngest two have autism and Down syndrome respectively. I have the kids 90-95% of the time. Yet I have to PROVE to the Divorce Master why a 10 year old who cannot wipe his own bottom and a 13 year old who throws chairs at people need 24 hour supervision. The father of my children makes 6 figures but he and his attorney want me to get the least amount of money required by law, and push for me to go back to work while ALSO caring for the kids and their medical needs full time. (I said, if you want me to work, then take the kids every other week.) He schedules visitation with them randomly and rarely, now down to a couple of days a month.

            As I’m gathering documentation on the children’s physical status for the Divorce Master, I’m also thinking it would be a good idea to gather info from our three counselors to document their father’s PD and sexual addiction. (I have documentation of his porn addiction and witnesses going back to 2002.) It’s not that so much that I want to limit his time with the kids (he barely spends time with them anyway) but to disprove his constant lies and get a reasonable financial settlement so that I can continue to take care of the kids in the house they consider their home.

            I have a LOT of documentation. HUNDREDS of pages of emails, text messages, internet downloads and notes on behaviors. Any suggestions on what is most relevant and how to organize it? What is a counselor who saw us jointly allowed to put into a statement without violating some HIPAA law?

            Any thoughts?

            To the gentleman with four kids – when you have time, you will surely find a lovely NORMAL woman who will appreciate your excellent fathering skills. More than likely, someone who has been through a similar circumstance. Looking at the dates of this discussion, you probably already have!

  7. skippy the bush kangaroo says

    hi there to everyone
    i,m a new member ,,all the way from australia
    also recovering from a terrible relationship ,, great work DR T !!!,
    as i have spent countless hours reading your articles & also readers comments
    which has also helped me in one way or another PRICELESS

    keep up the great work DR T

  8. Marshall Stack says

    I discussed this issue with an attorney a few months ago. Her advice was that an evaluation is not particularly beneficial, as they tend to not tell you anything you don’t already know. She suggested that paying privately for an outside evaluation would be more in-depth, but very expensive.

    Ultimately, she recommended that I should focus on making myself look like a good parent rather than making her look like a bad parent. I like Ms. Malonis’ idea of impeaching the freakazoid on the stand. I’m a big fan of giving people enough rope to hang themselves with.

  9. JPJ says

    Marshall Stack……with your growing expertise in recording and the great attitude for court…good luck to anyone going up against you. Make sure you keep all the knobs on you amp head at 11.

  10. TexasMom says

    My son is currently in the process of trying to obtain custody of his infant daughter from a Cluster B girlfriend. Fortunately, he was told early on to document, document, document. Also have engaged PI firm, while expensive, can document with photos, video and expert eye witness. It has not been a walk in the park–she is very paranoid, especially after going through all of his belongings and car and finding a receipt from an attorney (initial consultation)two months ago.

    He told her they were in a rough patch, and wanted to know about his rights as a father. Her response was your rights are what I tell you they are and nothing ever good happens in court. He spent the last two months acting meek and mild and not bucking anything she says. She still once or twice a week reminds him that going to court “would be bad for him”. She also threatens him with she will take the baby and he will never, ever see his daughter again.

    She is very afraid of going to court and he feels she would do anything to prevent it. I have learned a lot from this wonderful site, is WHY she is so afraid: being outed. Also it is reassuring that she may lose it on the witness stand. With the evidence so far collected, she will have severe difficulty explaining certain things away. Also, her actions have not been ‘one offs’, it is repeated bad behavior, which should show the judge her true self.

    The one thing I do not understand is why do Cluster B females seem to think they are wonderful mothers?

  11. says

    Texas Mom — I wish the best for your son. He’s lucky he has a mother who recognizes what he’s dealing with and is supportive. Keep it up. Having a strong supportive network can make the difference between your son moving all the way through this process as opposed to giving up and giving in.

    A couple of things you mentioned are so representative of these types of females: 1. They always tell the guy what’s going to happen in court, as if thinking it and speaking it out loud makes it so. I literally see this happen in every single case against a high conflict personality, and I always have to remind my male clients that their ex does NOT know what she’s talking about and DISREGARD their proclamations about what will happen in court — they’re always wrong; and 2. These women will do just about anything to avoid having to testify. They may love going to court to stir things up and harass their STBX, but they will avoid getting on that witness stand at any cost. Your son should anticipate her behavior to get more outrageous as it approaches time to go to court.

    The Cluster B who believes she is a wonderful mother probably has some narcissistic stuff going on. Some of them are good mothers in some areas, but it’s always tenuous and they tend to be pathologically territorial about their children (as if they are possessions, rather than little humans)

    Good luck to your son!

  12. TexasMom says

    Thank you so much for your response. My son has said that she does view the children (she has son from previous relationship) more like possessions or accessories. He has stated that she has her own little fantasy la-la land that she lives in.

    How prone are Cluster B’s to violence? He has confessed that he is truly terrified of her and what she might do once she is served with custody papers.

    She thinks she is back in the driver’s seat so this is really going to blindside her.

    • says

      The question about Cluster B’s being prone to violence is probably one for Dr. T — but I usually advise my clients to take extra precautions with their safety at the time the wife is being served with divorce papers, and especially if she’s being served with a custody suit. These times can be especially volatile for a woman who is already volatile. It’s very threatening to them to have their parenting skills challenged and have to face the possibility of losing child support and/or losing those accessories (the children) she loves to display. Typically men get a sense about this. You said your son is terrified about what she may do — that fear exists for a reason, and on a gut level he understands that she is capable of destructive or violent behavior, even if she’s not been violent in the past. Those gut feelings should be heeded and should motivate him to take the precautions necessary to protect himself and the children.

      When dealing with a high conflict wife in these situations, I usually advise men to remove firearms from her access in advance and be out of her reach when she is served. Sometimes it’s helpful to stay in a hotel for a few days or some other undisclosed location where he can make sure he’s safe. It may sound dramatic or extreme, but you really don’t know what she will do, and it is not worth taking the risk. I usually also advise men to observe strict no-contact for a few days at least when the wife is served with divorce or custody papers.

  13. TheGirlInside says

    Lightbulb moment:

    So that’s why my NPD mother wanted me to act prim and proper, dress me up in frills and lace…she thought of me as some kind of doll!! Something to be put on display to show ‘her’ positive qualities. ugh.

    I wonder, too, if this is why NPD mothers hate all their son’s gfs. My mother cannot stand either of my brother’s wives, who have their issues, but otherwise are decent human beings…is it because she sees those ‘other women’ as taking away their possession??? Truly sick.

    • Cousin Dave says

      TGI, as far as your mother dressing you up, that’s a good guess. We know that Cluster B’s tend to regard other people as objects. I could see how a Cluster B mother might regard her children, particularly female children, as dolls.

      As far as to hating the sons’ SO’s, I think it’s more fundamental than that… I think it’s because it rubs in the message that the sons are their own people and have their own free will. It’s easier for the Cluster B parent to regard her son as having been “kidnapped” by another woman (an example of projection) than to admit that the son is not an object to be fought over.

  14. says

    Texas Mom brought up a good point about hiring a private investigator. Yes, they can be expensive, and in cases where we’re not dealing with a HCP, I do not normally advise men to hire a PI just to try to catch the woman doing something that might make her look bad in court. In those situations, it’s rarely worth the expense.

    However, when you’re dealing with a woman who consistently engaged in Cluster B behavior, there is nothing more valuable in court than the kind of evidence that a private investigator can obtain. This type of woman will not be able to control her behavior over any length of time, and there’s a better than usual chance that a private investigator will be able to gather evidence of some outrageous behavior. It is expensive though — you’ll probably have to pay the investigator to do surveillance for several hours a day over several days.

    • Cousin Dave says

      I will add that, in my experience and the experiences of friends who have been through it too, if you have a Cluster B spouse, she *is* doing something behind your back. Even if you don’t use the information in court, it’s well worth knowing what she’s up to so that you can anticipate what kind of story she will try to spin.

  15. TexasMom says

    I am truly understanding the fear factor now, especially after reading many articles and comments on this site. His attorney advised calling an abuse hot line to talk with counselor on how to get her belongings out of his apartment and other precautions. We are formulating a plan to get him and the baby out of the area until the custody hearing.

    Unless something goes haywire, he should be able to get temporary sole custody until the hearing. His girlfriend’s other child will be picked up by CPS-long story short: he has been neglected-has global developmental delays, the mother has not been following up on therapy, or medical tests to determine exactly what his problems are. She also confided to my son that she did a variety of drugs the first 2-3 months of pregnancy with him. We are truly grateful that he will get the help he deserves and has been denied for so long. He is an innocent.
    She will also be served a temporary restraining order.

    She may have a total meltdown when served. What is truly frightening is the unpredictability of her reaction.

    Yes, the private investigator has been well worth the money. If you think about using one, I suggest you collaborate with your attorney on what you want them to observe and document. In some cases, they may be able to recommend a PI they have worked with before. In my son’s case, it was a happy coincidence that his attorney had worked with this particular PI before.

    Does she smoke in the car with the children in it? Is she really going to work or the ex-boyfriend’s house? Is she leaving the children unattended in the car while she runs into the store? It negates the he said/she said problem in many areas. They establish that this is consistent behavior, not an isolated incident that can be explained away. Keeping in mind, you still document, document, document.

    At first his girlfriend liked me; she hates me passionately now. I have been banned from seeing my granddaughter for over a month. From what my son says she rants about, it all stems to her belief that I “didn’t give her all the gifts she knows I intended to give her for Christmas”. Very good possibility she also sensed I didn’t buy her act.

    She truly thinks she is a great mother and knows better than anyone what is best for them. My guess would be (and insights from Shrink4Men) having children and being seen as a “good” mother makes her feel more adequate.

    • TheGirlInside says

      JP had an excellent post on this very topic ‘good mother’ – if I may borrow what he said….

      “other than being a jerk to me she really is a pretty good mother to my children.”
      I hope you can see how illogical that statement is. A good mother, by definition, does NOT mistreat her childrens’ father.

      IMO – my NPD mother also acted like a ‘doting’ mother to me–in front of witnesses, but being the youngest, I was often left alone with her while my father was on the road trucking and my siblings were working / in sports / etc…and she WAS NOT the same woman behind closed doors by any means! I will forever remember the day she kicked the crap out of me, telling me I was “too stupid to live.” No one else in our family knows about that. none of them understand why she now repulses me and why I refuse to be ‘loving’ to her.

      They are skilled manipulators and good at forming a ‘reality’ that is ‘safe’ for their SO…so that he may see ‘good mother’ and also accept that as a reality by ignoring red flags he might otherwise see if it wasn’t for the ‘repercussions’of daring to question her mothering skills.

      Congrats to him and you for listening to your intuition and doing what’s right – fighting for that innocent baby. I never understood how courts could assert parental rights that are a violation of a child’s right to safety / a loving home environment.

  16. TexasMom says

    Thank you so much for your insight, TheGirlInside. Is on the list to ask the attorney about a psych expert. Trying to cover all of our bases.

    “The reason it’s important to have a psych expert at trial is not so much to interpret or reveal test results, but to put this pattern of bad behavior in context and give a professional opinion about the effect it will have on the kids.”- Natalie Malonis

  17. TexasMom says

    Wanted to update: The hearing went extremely well. Son got sole temporary conservator and the order is written until age 18. Exgf has to jump through numerous hoops to get supervised visitation. She is already behind on many of the hoops. Just waiting and letting the deadlines pass without contempt hearings. Giving her rope. Within 6 months if she is still not doing anything, file to severe her parental rights.

  18. wondering says

    I know I’m late to this party, but curious. I am divorcing a covert narcissist. In under a decade, he has ruined my credit (got me to declare bankruptcy on his debts) , my business, my reputation. I have recently found out that from the beginning of our marriage, he has been carrying on affairs with multiple women, one who is taunting me online. He has physically assaulted me twice without arrest and still managed to have me arrested for domestic abuse that didn’t happen. Only in the past year have I realized that I am being abused. I have lost 30lbs in the past 6 months and look like a skeleton, my friends and family keep commenting that I’m not the same. And I’m not. I’m sick. I’m depressed, my hands are shaking so badly I can’t even put my mascara on. I came looking tonight to see if it would help if I were to get the psych evaluation for purposes of showing emotional abuse.

    He is constantly gas-lighting me, he has recruited quite a few friends and neighbors into his camp and I”m certain he’s smearing me in this really creepy way. All he does is make subtle suggestions and tell stories in a certain way, while telling the world how he still loves me and how he’s not good enough for me etc etc. Meanwhile a married woman in every state and 60k worth of credit card debt and statements he would never show.

    He’s bringing up my “violent history”, “my” mis-managment of money up in court to lower my spousal support. He has single handedly torn me down into this shell of a person and the support is critical right now. And I promise, nothing would make me happier to not need it and to just walk away.

    I can’t find any information about this and I feel entirely cornered. Is it too late in the game to get a psych evaluation? I know I need a therapist anyway. Badly. The problem is money. Right now I’m in the red every month and I just don’t have it.

  19. marriedsatan says

    I was feeling good about the fact that we (my attorney and I) managed to get a Judge’s order for a mental health evaluation for my STBX. It felt like a “victory” (after the false DV accusations I endured, and getting an Order of Protection withdrawn, etc.).

    After reading this article, I realize I’ve probably put too much hope into that evaluation. Her disregulation is cyclical, and who knows how she’ll behave (high-functioning, or unhinged) on the day the eval actually takes place?

    Thank you for writing this article. I still have tons of work to do, and I need to shore up many levels of defensive materials.

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