Divorcing a Sociopath

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Reader’s Question

I am currently in a divorce with a sociopath. Do you have any advice on how to handle a sociopath? He is making our life miserable. How can I handle this situation?

Psychologist’s Reply

A “sociopath” is a Personality Disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders), known in mental health terms as an “Antisocial Personality“. Antisocial Personalities are totally self-serving, controlling, intimidating, and have no concern for the welfare or feelings of those around them. If you are divorcing a Sociopath or Antisocial Personality, here are some general themes:

  • Personality Disorders are experts at manipulation and hidden agendas. Despite their behavior on the surface, there is likely a self-serving goal underneath. In a divorce, when an Antisocial offers to pay your phone bill every month, he’s actually looking for a ticket into your finances, your calls, and a reason to call, visit, scream, and discuss each and every phone call you make for the next few years.
  • Personality Disorders try to make their partners as miserable as possible during a divorce. Why? They hope you will agree to a better settlement to decrease their harassment. They threaten to fight for child custody — not because they want the children, but because the fear of losing the children to an Antisocial Personality is enough to make most good parents change their settlement offer.
  • An Antisocial Personality is not concerned with how you feel about anything, but they are concerned about their feelings and their situation. Don’t negotiate with him directly — only through an attorney or court representative. If you are being tormented, obtain a restraining/protection order. When he contacts you about divorce issues, allow your attorney to reply and don’t argue with him. In response to a request, reply “I’ll mention that to my attorney”. As long as he thinks you are making the decisions, the intimidation will continue, hoping to exhaust you emotionally to the point of a settlement in his favor. It’s hard to exhaust your attorney.
  • Understand that Personality Disorders have a tremendous sense of entitlement. He feels entitled to torment you and the family due to the divorce process. You can expect to lose property, personal valuables, pictures, and even pets under some circumstances. Antisocials will often hold property hostage as they deal in the divorce. They will also make a variety of threats, the most common being “I’ll quit my job so you’ll not receive child support!” or “I’ll move away where the court can’t find me!”. When confronted with any threat, assume a neutral position and don’t threaten back, perhaps offering “People divorce everyday. I’m sure we can work this out as well.”
  • Be prepared for a variety of different manipulations, including 1) buying a new car during divorce negotiations, hoping the debt will lower his child support, 2) finding a new girlfriend and taking her to the restaurant you always wanted to go to, 3) undermining your authority with the children or blaming you for the divorce, 4) calling your family and friends with his side of the story, although everyone probably knows why you are getting a divorce, and/or 5) reporting a miracle religious conversion or developing an incurable medical condition. You can expect anything. If you pay no attention, however, that will quickly subside, and other manipulation will take its place. He will be looking for a manipulation that works.
  • Personality Disorders rarely do anything that takes time or doesn’t benefit them. With that understanding, despite the torment you are experiencing at this time, once the divorce is final he is likely to fade out of your life, and of that of your family. Given monthly child visitation, if they can’t use the visitation times to torment the ex, they soon offer excuses for not appearing and eventually fade away.

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I’d recommend reading my introduction to Personality Disorders and checking some of the other questions which have been submitted on Personality Disorders. Follow your attorney’s advice and don’t agree to meetings alone, as an Antisocial Personality views face-to-face meetings as an abuse and intimidation opportunity.

You are not alone in this situation, and despite the threats and torment, the court is very familiar with this type of individual and is unlikely to be manipulated by them. Remain as business-like as possible.

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