When we speak with parents about child custody, our clients often say the other parent is a narcissist or that a parent’s personality disorder poses a danger to their child. While mental health issues can affect child custody and visitation orders in Tarrant County, proving they exist isn’t necessarily easy. If you’re concerned the other parent’s narcissism or personality disorder may put your child at risk, collecting evidence, seeking professional guidance and being patient will be essential during your case.
So you say your spouse is a narcissist
Then you have something in common with about 70 percent of the people who seek divorce and child custody advice from our Tarrant County family law firm. The question is: Does the other parent’s alleged narcissism pose a danger to your child? This assertion may be difficult to prove unless a doctor has officially diagnosed the party with a narcissistic personality disorder.
Narcissistic personality disorder is one of several Cluster B personality disorders. Others include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder. Characteristics of Cluster B personality disorders include dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior.
Before you run to WebMD to diagnose your spouse with a personality disorder, hit the breaks. The court needs an official diagnosis from a physician – your opinion doesn’t matter to the judge. If you have concerns, take time to educate yourself and consider seeking the advice of a medical professional for insight.
Tarrant County courts do recognize that behaviors associated with Cluster B personality disorders could be emotionally damaging to a child. Consequently, the medical diagnosis along with evidence of certain behaviors can play a role in child custody disputes in Texas.
Document suspected incidents related to personality disorders early on
Mental illness is a serious health concern in our country, with one in five adults experiencing mental illness every year. Sadly, we also see a lot of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms of anxiety and depression with people who have bravely served our country.
Personality disorders and other mental health issues are often difficult to quantify and prove to a judge. That’s why it’s very important to document specifics as soon as they arise in your relationship – even before you hire a divorce attorney.
Speculations and conclusions don’t fly in court. Your family law attorney needs factual evidence to support your claims; otherwise the court will view them as your opinion. When documenting evidence, be sure to:
- Keep an ongoing, running timeline of the specific incidents. You don’t want to have to try to recollect later what happened on Valentine’s Day two years ago.
- Include names of any witnesses to the incident. If possible, try to get something in writing – even if it’s in the form of an email or text.
- Save documentation in a secure place. It’s best not to save evidence on a computer or in a file your spouse could access.
- Share all evidence with your divorce attorney. This will help him or her get a better understanding of your concerns, contact witnesses if necessary and best prepare your case.
It’s important to note that this type of evidence may not be enough to limit the other parent’s access to your child permanently, but it’s an essential first step toward securing temporary orders to protect your child.
Take steps to prove a personality disorder exists – before going to court
The challenge with personality disorders is getting the evidentiary proof necessary to present to the court. Keep in mind, emergency hearings or TROs (temporary restraining order hearings) are frequently set within less than 14 days. You can’t just bring a doctor’s letter saying, “She’s a nut,” or “He’s a nut” into the courtroom. You actually have to produce tangible evidence and/or have the prescribing physician be present to testify.
In the eyes of the court, affidavits are hearsay, letters are hearsay and emails are hearsay.
What if you know the other parent has a personality disorder, and they’re off their meds or not responding well to treatment? The clearest and cleanest way to lock in the evidence is to subpoena that person and his or her medical records to a hearing and/or have them sign a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release and do a psychiatric evaluation.
You typically don’t want to push the gas pedal right away at that temporary hearing. Otherwise, if you start the case without the evidentiary proof of the personality disorder, the other parent could come to court appearing to be totally fine. They might be back on their meds or just having a good day. If you don’t have actual documented evidence and/or a physician testifying, the courts will be very hesitant to limit the parent’s possession or access based only on someone else’s – your – accusations.
Seek the guidance of a mental health professional to help children cope
When trying to co-parent with someone who has a personality disorder, it may be tempting to try to explain everything that you think is going on and take on the role of counselor. Instead, do your best to keep the kids out of it.
One of the worst things a parent can do is try self-help remedies to counsel their kids during a divorce. In our experience, it’s usually best to get a family therapist or other mental health professional involved early on to provide the support, tools and resources kids need to cope.
It also isn’t your place to explain how “crazy” the other parent is and why. By doing so, you could unwittingly make the child feel that half of him or her is crazy or bad or mentally ill, too. Kids are very observant, and if the other parent is that unstable, they’re going to know something is up. Instead, rely on a mental health professional for emotional guidance and your attorney to help you address safety issues through protective orders and other means.
Protecting children is the court’s No. 1 priority in Texas
As far as protecting your child is concerned, that really is the judge’s job. However, in order for the judge to be able to protect the child via an order, albeit supervised visitation or limited access, you need to provide the proof they require in order to do so.
The judge needs to have those concrete facts that prove by clear and convincing evidence that there is a danger, before he or she will deviate from a standard or expanded standard possession schedule. It’s a high burden, and it’s not easy to do, but you’ve got to present the evidence if you want to limit the other parent’s access to your child.
Want to hire the best divorce lawyer in Fort Worth for your child custody case?
Justin Sisemore has been rated one of the top three best divorce lawyers in Fort Worth, Texas. He understands the intricacies of mental health issues as they relate to child custody and how Tarrant County family courts view such cases. To speak with Justin, contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.