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Separating And Divorcing from a Partner who has a Personality Disorder

Many of us have, at some point, reached a point of no return - when you know despite your best efforts, staying together isn't going to work out.

Leaving someone who suffers from a personality disorder isn't always easy. Some of you may face harsh consequences, threats or false accusations just for raising the subject of separation with your spouse or significant other. Others may experience their partner begging or pleading with them to stay. You may also have to deal with combinations of both extremes.

Others have children, whom they want to protect and shelter, but whom they fear will become victims in the process.

It’s also common for people to be caught in the middle – undecided as to whether it is better to stay or to go - trying to decide between the lesser of two evils. The finality of the decision can be an enormous burden, and if you’re struggling with it, you’re not alone. Many of us have been there.

Here are a few things to consider when you are considering leaving or divorcing a personality-disordered partner:

Before Separation or Divorce

During Separation or Divorce

Divorce Statistics

  1. US Divorce Rate
  2. Child Custody Stats
  3. Child Support Stats

After Separation or Divorce

Recommended Links

Before Separation or Divorce

Put Children First - Put Children First means making decisions based on "what is in the best interests of the children", regardless of the consequences for the parents and any other parties involved.

Personal Safety - Personal Safety is a list of actions that are designed to keep situations from escalating and to make sure that Physical, Emotional and Verbal abuse is avoided or stopped at the first moment it begins to happen. It contains ideas on when to stop the conversation, when to leave the room and when to call the police.

Leaving Checklist - The Leaving Checklist is a list of things to prepare and things to consider before, during and after separating from a person who suffers from a personality disorder.

During Separation or Divorce

The Divorce process is generally all about two issues:

  1. Who gets custody of the children
  2. Division of the marital assets

The first issue is the most complex and generally the most contentious. If there are children involved, it generally takes priority in the eyes of most parties and in the eyes of the court. The results of the child custody case will also have some bearing on the financial settlement since the person who is looking after the children is generally considered to need more financial support.

Divorce Finances

Cases which do not involve children are generally resolved as a division of financial assets. In general, it will be the intent of the court to divide the assets in the most mathematically equitable way possible. In most cases the behavior of the two people involved in the marriage prior to the divorce will not be taken into consideration when dividing assets, unless it can be demonstrated that the circumstances of the relationship have caused future financial hardship on one of the parties.

A good rule of thumb is to assume that whatever marital assets were held by the couple prior to the divorce will be split 50-50. Some states have a common property law, which effectively says that any property held during the marriage is jointly owned by both parties.

Special consideration, in the form of alimony or spousal support , may be given to spouses who are judged by the court to have sacrificed career opportunities in order to support the other spouse or the children of the marriage. Laws vary significantly from state to state.

Custody Cases

By far the most complex of cases are divorces involving personality disordered individuals which include disputes over the custody of minor children.

Every case is as individual as the DNA of the parties involved, so it is impossible to tell you exactly what will happen. However, there are a number of patterns or trends which are common to most of these cases.

Finding an Attorney - Finding an attorney who knows how to handle cases involving people who suffer from personality disorders is crucial. This article explores some of the things you should consider if you are looking for an attorney.

Guardian ad litem - A Guardian ad litem is a professional (often an attorney or social worker) appointed by a court to represent a child's interests in a legal proceeding or custody dispute. The Latin term ad litem literally means "for the trial" or "for the proceeding"

Custody Evaluation - A Custody Evaluation is a procedure ordered by a court in a custody case in which a professional is appointed to recommend to the judge which custody arrangement is in the best interest of the minor children.

Psychological Evaluation - A Psychological Evaluation is a procedure, typically carried out as part of a court proceeding, in which a mental health professional is appointed by the court to determine a diagnosis or label for a person's psychology, behavior or personality and to make recommendations which a judge can take into account when making a ruling.

Settlement - A Settlement is a mutually agreed upon resolution to a legal dispute which is worked out between both parties prior to a ruling being made by a judge.

Parental Alienation Syndrome - When a separated parent convinces their child that the other parent is bad, evil or worthless.

Sexual Allegations in Divorce (SAID) - Sexual Allegations In Divorce (SAID) is a common occurrence in disputed child custody cases in which one parent makes false or exaggerated claims about sexual abuse of a minor child at the hands of the other parent.

Child Abduction - Child Abduction is a serious, yet common occurrence when people who suffer from personality disorders become involved in a custody dispute. Approximately 82% of more than 200,000 child abductions every year are perpetrated by family members.

Divorce Statistics

US Divorce Statistics

US Marriage and Divorce Rate:

Year US Population Marriage Rate per 1,000 population* Divorce Rate per 1,000 population*
2009 306,803,000 6.8 3.5
2008 304,483,000 7.1 3.5
2007 302,226,000 7.3 3.6
2006 299,398,484 7.4 3.7
2005 296,497,000 7.6 3.6
2004 293,623,000 7.8 3.7
2003 291,384,000 7.7 3.8
2002 288,369,000 7.9 3.9
2001 285,318,000 8.2 4.0
2000 281,422,000 8.2 4.0

Source: CDC/NCHS National Vital Statistics System. *Excludes some states.

US Child Custody Statistics

Many people believe that mothers are naturally better caregivers than fathers. And the US courts seem to agree. US Divorce Statistics show that a divorcing mother is 7 times more likely to retain sole custody of her children than a father:

USA 1990 Custody Statistics (19 States reporting) Percentage
Sole possession granted to mother 72.5%
Sole possession granted to father 10.3%
Joint possession 15.7%
Possession granted to other person(s) 1.4%

Source: http://www.divorcepeers.com/stats17.htm

Fathers, who want to protect their children from an abusive mother, are sometimes afraid to take legal action because they fear:

  • Facing ridicule or disbelief from police or social services.
  • Losing all contact with their children at the hands of a gender-biased legal system
  • Facing steep legal costs.
  • Facing abuse themselves at the hands of the perpetrator
  • Being judged by their communities, families and friends.

Child Support Statistics

When it comes to child support, US census data indicates that:

  • 79.6% of custodial mothers receive a child support award
  • 29.9% of custodial fathers receive a child support award

US census data also indicates that fathers are more likely to fulfil their child support obligations than mothers:

  • 43% of moms required to pay child support are "deadbeat moms" - i.e. they default on 100% of the money they owe,
  • 32% of dads required to pay child support are "deadbeat dads" - i.e. they default on 100% of the money they owe.

One of the reasons that "deadbeat dads" get most of the bad press in the popular media is that there are a lot more of them - primarily for 2 reasons:

  • There are 7 times more fathers than mothers who do not have primary custody of the children.
  • Fathers are 3 times more likely than mothers to be ordered to pay child support than their female counterparts.

Source: 2002 Fox News Article

After Separation or Divorce

Co-parenting - Co-parenting (or Coparenting) means sharing physical or legal custody of a child when you are separated or divorced.

Parallel Parenting - Parallel Parenting is a form of parenting in which a divorced couple assume or are assigned specific parental duties while minimizing or eliminating contact with each other, thus minimizing exposure of the children to potential conflict.

Taking the long term view.

If you're already in the process or just considering leaving a person with a personality disorder, chances are you are feeling frustrated and scared and just want to be left in peace.

You may find yourself looking for short cuts - "How can I just get rid of this", "Maybe I could just run away", This is my life and nobody has the right to tell me what to do". These feelings are very common for someone in your situation.

Unfortunately the legal process is a slow one. Most divorces involving children and personality-disordered individuals take 1-2 years to be resolved. Some take longer.

It helps to look at the long term and decide where you want to be in 5 years from now. Things are likely to get worse, not better, immediately after you play the divorce card. You may face all kinds of threats and accusations that you never imagined. Others of you will be "hoovered" and offered the world by your spouse or significant other if you will just stay and work things out. You need to keep your eye on what is in the best interests of your children and yourself long-term.

It can also be helpful to think about what you will say to your children when they are older. Will you be able to look them in the eye and say "I did the best I could for you"? When many years have passed the ability to say that may be more important to you than any short or medium term goals that you have right now.

Don't go it alone.

Leaving a spouse or partner who suffers from a personality disorder can be one of the loneliest experiences in the world. Yes, you are leaving behind some of the chaos and fear but you are also giving up on "the dream" of a happy relationship and you will grieve and mourn for the loss of something that was important to you. Many people feel guilt because they are abandoning their post as caretaker of the person who suffers from a personality disorder. You may feel responsible for what happens to that person after you are gone. You may feel an overwhelming sense of failure as you reflect on marriage vows, promises made, good intentions unfulfilled. You may regret having brought children into a world full of chaos.

These feelings are normal. Many of us find ourselves going through some - or all - of the "five stages of grief" as we try to come to terms with our situation.

This is a time to surround yourself with as much support as you can – from sound legal representation and advice to good friends, responsible and supportive family members, support groups, message boards like this, therapists and counselors. You will go through the roller coaster of emotions. Fill your life with as many strong allies and good things as you can to help you cope.

You can see some ideas posted in our Working on Ourselves page and discuss ideas and experiences with others in our Working on Ourselves Forum


There is a life after leaving or divorcing. You will lose something, but at the end you can find yourself on the other side, out of the FOG - the fear, obligation and guilt. Making your own decisions, no longer trying to push the rock up the hill. Separation may only be the lesser of two evils, but it is still better to choose the lesser.

Many of us have walked the path you are on, and survived, won our children, our security and our dignity. We salute those of you who are still on the road and wish you our best.

Recommended Links:

Here are some links to books and information that might be of use:

Recommended Books:

Book Cover - "Splitting"
SPLITTING: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist
by William A. Eddy
"SPLITTING" is designed for anyone facing a high conflict divorce, whether or not your spouse meets the criteria for a Borderline or Narcissistic Personality. Its explanations of WHAT TO EXPECT in Family Court and WHAT TO DO to protect yourself and your children, can be used by anyone, including your attorney, your therapist, your family and others involved in your case.
CD Cover - "You're My World"
You're My World (3 CD Set)
by Randi Kreger, Ken Lewis and James Paul Shirley
"You're My World" is a 3-CD package with information and advice for individuals who are involved in custody disputes with people who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. The CD features an extended interview by Randi Kreger, co-author of "Stop Walking on Eggshells" of Ken Lewis, Ph.D., a Registered Custody Evaluator who specializes in interstate cases and James Paul Shirley, MSW, a therapist with 15 years of experience with personality disorders.


On Line Support

There is a section of our Support Forum dedicated to supporting people who find themselves in Separating & Divorcing from relationships with partners who suffer from personality disorders.

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